Cat History – The height of modern, sophisticated cat breeding below – Miss Kate (photo copyright Helmi Flick) a Maine Coon cat champion next to the skull of a Saber Tooth tiger, extinct 10,000 years ago.
The history of the cat should start with, and really should be about, the history of the wild cat. Wild cat history occupies 99.98% of all of the history of the cat. This is on the basis that wild cats first walked on this planet about a maximum of 5 million years ago and the wild cat became domesticated in Cyprus about 9,500 years ago (about the time the Saber Tooth Tiger became extinct). The remains of domestic cats next to their deceased owners in Cyprus have also been dated as 6,000 years old and it is said that they must have been imported into Cyprus because wildcats do not naturally occur on Cyprus4. Interestingly, today, in early 2010, a new cat breed is being created from Cyprus feral cats native to the island (see Birth of A New Cat Breed).
Of course the exact date and place of the domestication of the wildcat is not certain. There is, though, little doubt that the area of the Mediterranean sea was the center (the Mediterranean Basin – The Ascent of Cat Breeds). This includes Cyprus and Egypt. Although a recent Scientific American article states that dometication started in the Fertile Crescent11. This is an area just to the east and south east of the Mediterranean Sea – see map12>>
Update April 2011: Recent research may indicate that domestication of the cat also took place in Peru some 3.500 year ago.
I wrote a potted history of the big cats, which kicks off the history of the cat: History Of The Big Cats.
Most visitors will want to know about the history of the domestic cat so although it only occupies .02% of all history of the cat it is the focus of attention here. One reason for this is that the pressing topic for the wild cats is currently (at Jan 2010) not its history but its future. The big question is how we can live in harmony with the wildcat (not captive wildcats), if that is what we want.
Another reason why discussing the domestic cat is more pertinent is that there are about 500 million domestic cats in the world and only a tiny fraction of that number are wildcats, which means that about 99.98% of all cats on the planet are domesticated. This is a nice symmetry with the history. The rapid decline in the wild cat population is mirrored by the rapid increase in the domestic cat population over the last 150 years or so. This reflects humankind’s attitude towards nature – control. Today, the cat is the most favoured pet in the west, with about 8 million in the UK and about ten times that in the USA. Because of its utilitarian skills, dogs are probably favoured in eastern countries (Dogs versus Cats).
Ultimately, cat history for people is mainly about the domestic cat and I focus on that initially. This page is always work in progress to a certain extent, however.
The domestic cat is a tamed wild cat. In this instance the term “wild cat” refers to a species of small wild cat by that name (a bit confusing possibly). The wild cat is naturally similar in appearance to the domestic cat. There is still (just) a wild cat in Scotland with a population of about 400. But are these purebred wildcats anymore? A new program to neuter 100,000 feral cats occupying the wildcats habitat is planned to remove the prospect of diluting the genes.
The African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) is quite wide spread, more likely to be purebred (than the Scottish wildcat) and it was tamed by the Egyptians some 4,000 years ago1. The skeletons of African wildcats and domesticated wildcats are very similar, understandably3. The wildcat is a tabby cat and the tabby domestic cat is the most numerous of all coat types.
The exact process of domestication is unclear but the wild cat proved to be useful and that is a good reason for making friends with it and domesticating it. It is likely that African wild cat kittens and their parents on the periphery of villages, where they would have scavenged and kept rodents and snakes down, where then domesticated. The wealthy Egyptians of that time also liked to tame wild animals generally and would have added tamed wilcats to their collections, it is thought5. African wild cat kittens are not necessarily easy to handle, however6. But a visitor to this site differs in that assessment (My Pet African Wildcat)
It is believed that the first domestic cats, in and around the Mediterranean (which includes Cyprus and Egypt of course), were then exported through the movement of people initially to Rome7 and then beyond. The Romans through their armies were good travellers. The domestic cat in England originates in importations by the Romans and is not a domesticated Scottish Wild cat. Although as mentioned there are now numerous wild cat hybrids in Scotland.
After an uneventful period from around 55 BC when the Romans arrived in Britain to the dreaded middle ages or medieval Britain not much seems to have happened except for the steady progress of the domestic cat in Europe and as far as Asia by the 10th century. I have written about the genetic make up of the various cat breeds in reference to their origins (in the Meditteranean) on this page: Cat Genetics — the cat breeds.
There are documents from the tenth century in Wales (part of the United Kingdom or UK) referring to domestic cats indicating that the cat companion was becoming more common in Europe. Although they must have been relatively scarse judging by the price put on a domestic cat by the King of Wales in AD 945.
The cat had a value and was respected for its utility. During this period in Europe the cat’s mousing abilities were recognised (as they had been earlier in Egypt), which lead to the now well known ship’s cat. As a result there are a number of sailing terms centered around the word “cat”, such as cat of nine tails
Superstition is still a part of life today but in the middle ages it appears there was more of it and the humble cat bore the brunt of it sometimes. It was thought that the tortoiseshell cat
In the days of the middle ages from the 5th century through to the 16th century, witches were very real and the poor cat was thought of a witches familiar, meaning an intimate companion. The black cat was the most persecuted and even today the black cat is the least popular in rescue centers, apparently. I feel that the fear of cats is a major factor in this superstition (Ailurophobia).
During the middle ages, particularly toward the 14th century8, it was believed by some that witches, who were portrayed as old, ugly women, had a nipple that delivered blood and milk to feed the black cat! Witches were tortured as they were thought to be able to cause harm to people. The witches cat companion was likewise victimised. Women deemed to be witches were hanged as late as 1692 in the United States.
The first trial for witchcraft took place in 15669. The women and her daughter were hanged. The phrase a cat has nine lives
There are many cat haters
The rise in the domestic cat brought with it an explosion in the number of cat breeds from the late 19th century to the present (2010). The most active time for cat breed creation was the 1950s (see chart below).
I wonder if the cat fancy should be rebooted and reset to default? This is just a slightly provocative thought. But what is the default position? Probably sometime in the early part of the 20th century. It could be argued that two many cat breeds were “created”, which harmed the cat fancy and it could also be argued that the purity of some breeds and the integrity of other breeds regarding health have been compromised throughout the 20th century by less than meticulous cat breeding. See for example: Siamese cat health problems and Genetic Diseases in Purebred Cats.
Next on this page I deal with three sorts of cat history:
Update: A map showing the places of origin of all the mainstream cat breeds: Cat Breeds Places of Origin.
Each page of the cat breeds has a history section. In addition, I have prepared pages on the history of the following cat breeds in more detail:
A hotch potch of items that I came across that I found interesting and which fit nicely into a page on cat history.
Cat History or the evolution of the wild cats all the way through to the first domestic cats, followed by the development of the cat fancy and consequently the creation of numerous domestic cat breeds is all set out below in the form of a continuous time line.
The intention is to get a feel for “whole picture” and how the modern domestic cat fits into world history.
The dates are in years. For example, “40 million” means 40 million years ago. The more modern era is marked by an actual date.
This website if still growing. Although there are a lot of links to cats referred to on this page, there will be more links in time. The dates for the modern domestic cat breeds refer to the date the cat was created or “discovered”. “Discovered” in this context means by someone in the West, usually a cat breeder discovering a de facto new breed in another country.
Links on the cat breed takes you to a full description and to the best pictures. Links on the dates and area of origin take you to notes on this page as, for example, the date may be disputed.
I have included links to posts about things associated with cats and cat breeds, such as cat shows as this helps to put the history of the cat breeds in context. These are in italics to separate them out from the date or origin of the cat breeds.
Cat history — Important note: cat history is often hazy so these dates, although often accurate, may on occasions be estimates.
Cat History -This Chart shows the “productive” years in the cat fancy
-the 1950s and 60s and then the 1980s.
Cat History – The Future
Cat history wouldn’t be complete without some predictions. So, I can’t resist, on this occasion, making a fool of myself and speculating what the future might bring. These are my views only and pure speculation. We can see in the graph above the “explosion” in the creation of cat breeds during the 20th century.
The breeds listed are not all the cat breeds as there are many experimental breeds or proposals for breeds, which you can see on this page: Domestic cat breeds (this is a spill over list).
The number of cat breeds has possibly reached near saturation point and perhaps even overshot the mark (i.e. too many as some could be merged some people would argue).
The three areas where change are likely to occur for cats are (a) feral cat populations – upwards (b) wild cat populations – downwards (c) cat association rationalization – merger (d) introduction of regulations to encourage responsible cat ownership. And I am talking mainly here of the USA as I must do because it is the biggest “market” by far for the domestic cat but I am not being critical of it in any way. Nothing approaches it and it is the most developed domestic cat market it seems to me. USA wide ban on declawing is also possible and indeed probable.
Many cats in the poorer countries will live poor lives for many years to come and it is almost impossible to do much about that because of inefficient and sometimes, regrettably, corrupt governments.
I have put some proposed dates into the time line below with respect to the above changes.
Cat History – Timeline
Date Origin/discovery/event | Cat breed or Event | Area
|——-2009 (12-12-09)–Declawing banned in the USA in 8 Calif. cities.
|——-2005—Est.2.1 million cats killed in animal shelters (source) —-USA
|——-2004—Estimated 70 million feral cats (National Geographic News)– USA
|——-2004—Est. 7.7 million domestic cats in UK (source)————UK
|——-2000—Est. 3 million feral cats in Los Angeles—–USA
|——-1996—-Est. 60 million feral cats & 60 million pet cats (source) —USA |
|——-1800s—–Kurilian Bobtail————-Kurilian Islands
|——-1800s (early) almost entire Cougar pop. gone from Eastern USA—USA
|——-1798—–Origins of phrase, “Kilkenny cat”—-Ireland
|——-1730——Manx——————–Isle of Man, UK
|——-1599——Nowegian Forest Cat formally made a cat breed in 1930 (German cat show) ——Norway
|——14th Century—Siamese (Traditional)—Siam (Thailand)
|——14th Century—Turkish Angora————Turkey
|——13th Century—Siberian cat————–Russia
Painting from the tomb of Nebamun built in about 1400 BC in ancient Egypt showing a cat that has similarities to the modern day feral Egyptian Mau.
Some experts think that the ancient Egyptian trained cats for use in catching birds. This picture is in the public domain.
|——10,000 years—–Cougar becomes extinct North America?
|——10,000 years —-Saber Tooth tiger becomes extinct
|——10,000 years—wild cat becomes domesticated for first time
|The cat history dates below are estimates and imprecise.
|——–2 million—–Leopard–common ancestor of this cat
|——–2 million—–Jaguar—common ancestor of this cat
|——–2.5 million—Leopard——————North America
|——–3.5 million—-Lion (this conflicts with the above date)
|——–4 million——Lynx-early descendants
|——–10 million—-modern wild cats (felids) inhabited the world
|——–40 million—-Miacis—weasel like animal predates the cat
Cat History – Notes – these are linked notes to the dates and places in the chart above
2. Egyptian Mau – It is unclear if this cat breed was a domestic cat at this time. The breed was first recognized in Europe (according to Robinson’s Genetics) in 1953. My research indicates this breed was first shown in Europe during pre-second world war years (1930s).
10. Ultra Persian – this date comes from Robinson’s Genetics. My website indicates that the breeding of the peke-faced or flat faced Persian began in earnest later than this towards the end of the 1900s.
15. Savannah cat – Robinson’s Genetics says “1997?”. I am confident that they are incorrect. Accordingly I believe that my research is better than theirs (sorry not being arrogant, just what I believe).
16. Modern Siamese – The date refers to the beginning of the development of the contemporary version of this long established cat. Siamese cat history.
24. Egyptian Mau – this date (2000 BC) is the estimated date for the presence of feral cats that are the precursor of the purebred Egyptian Mau. Although we really don’t know. There are still many feral cats in Egypt that look like an unrefined Egytian Mau and they are persecuted. The Egyptian Mau in the modern era came to prominence in the 1950s.
Notes – cat history:
12. Wikmedia Commons file – Created by NormanEinstein, December 21, 2005 — see license
From Cat history to Home page
Cat History – Sources other than noted in text:
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