Ancient Egyptian cats were nearly all very large mackerel tabbies?

cat mummy: a large mackerel tabby cat
Cat mummy: a large mackerel tabby cat
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

A few hundred mummified Egyptian cats exist in museums and analysis of some of the remains reveals that they are mackerel tabby cats like the North African wildcat. I suppose that result might be expected. However, these mummified remains were of cats that existed 2000 years after the first domestication of the North African wildcat.

It may be the case that the mummified remains examined do not entirely represent the domestic cats of the era but if they do, it suggests that all domestic cat at that time were mackerel tabby cats. Unlikely? This would imply that the mutations which gradually altered the appearance of the domestic cat had yet to take place or they had taken place but they were killed or culled to prevent them breeding because the Egyptians favoured mackerel tabby cats perhaps for religious reasons.

Apparently, there were no black cats or tabby and white cats and interestingly there were no classic or blotched tabby cats. Today, in many parts of the world the blotched tabby pattern is more common than the mackerel striped tabby pattern.

Also, the alternative patterns such as black and white cats did not appear until later and not in Egypt. The blotched tabby pattern is an appearance caused by a single mutation that is also common in wild cat species. An example is the king cheetah, which has a blotched tabby pattern rather than the normal spotted tabby pattern of other cheetahs. And we know about melanistic wild cats (black) which are relatively common.

The colour and pattern variations seem to have been established over the third and fourth thousand years of domestication. If that is correct it is suprising. It would imply that all domestic cats for the first two thousand years were mackerel tabbies! Although some of the cats might have been red (ginger) tabbies when reference is made to the wall paintings of the time, although the color could be faded grey/brown or it could simply be artistic license.

It is possible that the mutation that results in the ginger tabby may have originated in Egypt, specifically the port of Alexandra and the Egyptian-founded city of Kartoum. If this is true the orange tabby pattern is the oldest cat coat bar the grey/brown tabby.

Another interesting observation for cat lovers and historians is that all the mummified cats analysed were about 15% larger than today’s domestic cats. Very surprisingly, the mummified cats were 10% larger than African wildcats are today. This oddity may have come about because Egyptians preferred large cats as they were better rodent controllers and they were bred for size. I would have thought that there would have to have been some sort of control over breeding to achieve this bias for super-sized domestic cats that were larger than their wildcat ancestor.

Ref: Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed (on Kindle)

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

12 thoughts on “Ancient Egyptian cats were nearly all very large mackerel tabbies?”

  1. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

    Truth Be Told must be one of Woody’s clan, I’m sure he/she has popped up before, trying to discredit articles on PoC.

  2. @TruthBeTold. I have 35 long-haired and short-haired Anatolian cats who’s normal range is both inside and outside the house. So according to your fantasy I should also have a house and garden full of rodents. I have only ever seen one dead rat placed at my front door. There are no rodents anywhere, and not even any cockroaches which the cats have taken care of long ago. The garden is full of birds which cats are supposed to decimate, and starlings frequently strut amongst my cats stealing their food giving the lie to the hysterical claims that cats kill billions of birds every year. The crazy figures put out by the Smithsonian would mean that all bird species should have been extinct years ago in N America. Sure. The people of N American are quivering in fear of the the Black Death and reports of massive outbreaks send them running for the hills. How many cases are there of bubonic plague in N America? Bubonic plague is endemic and is common in a wide variety of wildlife but human cases are very rare. Now somehow the cat gets blamed.
    Your reasoning that cats attract rodents on account of infecting them with Toxoplasmosis is completely unrealistic. It is more like a really good rodent control strategy for attracting them exactly to where they will be dispatched immediately. As far as saying cats are not good rodent controllers because rats and mice breed under ground conveniently overlooks the fact they have to come out and eat sometimes and that’s when they fall prey to cats.
    ” It has been documented many many times. The more cats you have, the more rodents and diseases you get.”
    What insane literature have you been reading?
    You seem to have a problem with logic and a hatred for
    cats which had it been shared by the majority of human-kind we would not be here today. Vectoring in on an unimportant source of disease is not only stupid it is dangerous because it detracts from addressing significant and real sources. Likewise the obsession with cats as the most important reason for depletion of bird numbers. The main reasons are the introduction into N America of the European starling, habitat loss and probably the most import, pesticides. No problem will ever be solved by wrong diagnosis. It is you who is “hijacked” by your obsessive hatred of cats which prevents you from addressing the issue rationally.
    PS. By your reasoning the island of Cyprus should be overrun with rodents, bubonic plague, toxoplasmosis, fleas, etc. on account of the large number of random-bred cats, but it’s not. Cypriots live longer than N Americans, spend 1/10th of what Americans spend on health care and are healthier.

  3. The Feline Genome Project shows that modern-day cats of Turkey/Anatolia are very homogeneous in that they have predominantly the same genetic markers. The cats of Egypt are a mix of cats from many surrounding areas including Turkey and East Africa. The earliest known archaeological evidence of cat domestication was found in Cyprus and dated to the 8th millennium BC, long before any Egyptian civilisation, and related to settlers from Eastern Anatolia. Egypt can hardly be regarded as part of the fertile crescent where cat domestication was prompted by the need to protect grain stores since it is isolated from the fertile areas of Mesopotamia and Anatolia by vast desert areas. Furthermore Egypt lagged far behind the above-mentioned areas in the development of agriculture by several thousand years. The Egyptians suffered from a wide variety of genetically induced diseases worsened by incest and inbreeding and not caused by cats. I suggest had it not been for rodent control by cats the agricultural revolution may not have been successful enough to enable urban societies to develop. Rats and mice would have run riot, not only eating the grain stores but also fouling it with disease-bearing droppings. Far from worshiping cats the Egyptian could more accurately be accused of persecuting them to the extent of seriously limiting their numbers and consequently their rodent control activities. That together with spending most of the nation’s wealth on building useless pyramids and supporting a vast parasitic unproductive priesthood and the ruling Pharaohs, was probably what led to their downfall, not cats. Most of the money and wealth was buried with the Pharaohs and little was left for development or defense. Disease transmission to humans from cats is dwarfed by human-to-human infections which throughout history has caused 99% of human illness and deaths. Zoonotic diseases are not particularly efficient. Direct transmission from one host to another identical host is much more effective than going through a complicated third party route. The main exception of course is malaria. I hear a lot about cats causing illness in people. How come mosquitoes and house-flies come off so lightly?

    1. If you think that cats make good rodent control, think again.

      Your myth about cats being good rodent control has been disproved on every island where cats were imported to take care of the imported rodents. Hundreds of years later and there’s nothing but a thriving population of cats and rodents — all the native wildlife on those islands now either extinct or on the brink of extinction — even those native species which are better rodent predators than cats (such as many reptiles and shrews), the cats having destroyed them directly or indirectly. And I bet you think of yourself as educated.

      The rodents reproduce in burrows and holes out of the reach of cats, where they are happy to reproduce forever to entertain cats the rest of their lives, and make your own lives miserable, on into infinity. On top of that, when cats infect rodents with cat’s Toxoplasma gondii parasite, this hijacks the minds of rodents to make the rodents attracted to where cats urinate. (Google for: Parasite Hijacks The Mind Of Its Host)

      Cats actually attract disease-carrying rodents to where cats are. The cats then contract these diseases on contact with, or being in proximity to, these rodents. Like “The Black Death”, the plague, that is now being transmitted to humans in N. America directly from cats that have contracted it from rodents. Yes, the plague is alive and well and being transmitted by cats today. Cats attracting these rodents right to them further increasing the cat/rodent/disease density of this happy predator/prey balance. It has been documented many many times. The more cats you have, the more rodents and diseases you get.

      Cats DO NOT get rid of rodents. I don’t care how many centuries that fools will claim that cats keep rodents in-check, they’ll still be wrong all these centuries. Civilizations of humans have come and gone in great cities like Egypt, yet their cats and rodents remain in even greater pestilent numbers.

      No cat population anywhere has ever been able to control rodents effectively. But native predators can — easily.

      Keep deceiving yourselves.

      1. I am not saying that cats are good rodent controllers. I am simply saying that in Ancient Egypt large domestic tabby cats were used to control or minimise snakes and rodents. That is what is believed by people today. I am simply reporting that fact and I am not commenting (as you are on) on the effectiveness of cats as rodent controllers.

  4. Cats weren’t native animals to Egypt either. They were imported from other regions, brought in from Turkey and surrounding areas. Most all of them were young. Only a small number were kept as temple animals and pets. Then to “worship” them properly; they were all killed at a young age, mummified, then offered as animal sacrifices to their Gods. This is why they found 300,000 young mummified cats buried there for a population of only 100,000 to 150,000 people. EACH PERSON killed and sacrificed at least 2 young cats as a cultural custom and duty. They couldn’t worship them as Gods while they were alive, they needed non-corporeal cats for that.

    [Aside: I often wonder if this isn’t what, in part, led to their eventual downfall. So many exorbitant resources devoted to killing exponentially-over-breeding cats, along with all the diseases cats spread. Someone was at least smart enough to make it a religious-custom to kill them at high rates. Cats’ Toxoplasma gondii brain-hijacking parasite might have even caused mental problems in their leaders and general population (as it does today; causing autism, schizophrenia, and brain tumors in humans).]

    It is also interesting to note that people who want to worship cats today, claiming that’s what Egyptians did, aren’t doing it right. They must kill them while young, mummify them, then leave them at the altar of their nearest place of worship.

    It seems that today’s cat-lovers just can’t do anything right.

    1. Cats weren’t native animals to Egypt either. They were imported from other regions, brought in from Turkey and surrounding areas

      There is nothing to verify that statement. It is your opinion. You are making a lot of assumptions. Please don’t dress it up as “fact”. We don’t know exactly how or where domestication of the cat took place. And we don’t know exactly what the Ancient Egyptians did with their cats. There is a lot of speculation.

    2. So you think what the Egyptians did is right. That’s exactly what you just said.

      Personally I am glad that cat lovers are getting ‘wrong’ in your book or we’d be living in the past, quite literally. It was good of you to refrain from being offensive this time. Made your comment alot more interesting and worth reading.

      I also don’t particularly believe you. I don’t think they were systematically killing young cats. I believe they used the cats. In actual fact I would be tempted to assume that the cats kept disease and dirt away from food supplies and crops. Rats and mice are probably more od a health issue than cats. What alot of cat haters seem to foget is how the world would be without cats.

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