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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