Wildcat First Domesticated For Companionship Not As A Rodent Killer

Received wisdom tells us that the first examples of the domestication of the Near Eastern wildcat (Felix silvestris lybica) or African wildcat occurred because it suited farmers to allow the wildcat to feed on the rodents who were in turn feeding on their grain. It was a mutual, commercial and functional arrangement. The wildcat had a steady supply of prey while the farmer lost less of his grain.

We are told this over and over again on the Internet and in books. It is almost an established fact that the early domestic cats were primarily working cats.

African Wild Cat Facts For Kids
African Wild Cat Facts For Kids. Credits: bottom picture of wildcat by lildude – top picture by kibuyu. Globe under Wikimedia Commons. Artwork by Michael at PoC. I don’t have a credit for the middle picture. Sorry. Please advise. The cats in the picture may be partly wildcat and partly domestic cat.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment written by visitors. It is a way visitors can contribute to animal welfare without much effort and no financial cost. Please comment. It helps this website too which at heart is about cat welfare.

However, the first evidence of the domestic cat is a skeleton of a cat lying next to a skeleton of a man in Cyprus dated from around 9,500 years ago. This was a close relationship. This was a relationship that was one of companionship and it must have been close companionship otherwise the man would not have insisted upon his cat being buried with him or if he had not insisted upon that his relatives felt that it was appropriate that his cat companion was buried with him.

I wonder whether scholars have over emphasised the working nature of the very first domestic cats in the world and under emphasised the companionship element of the relationship?

Today many thousands of years later and for thousands of years the overriding feature of the human’s relationship with the domestic cat is one of companionship. It is companionship which sustains the relationship and which underpins it. There are other aspects to the relationship between human and domestic cat but companionship is by far the outstanding feature.

Why should it have been any different 5,000 to 10,000 years ago? We, also, have to ask ourselves, how effective is the domestic cat as a mouser and rodent killer? No doubt, the presence of a domestic cat even one that was closer to his wildcat ancestor than is currently the case, would by his presence have deterred rodents entering a farmer’s barn or storage area but how effective was this?

Was it so effective that on its own it was a good reason for a farmer to keep a domestic cat? My current thoughts are that the working cat element of the relationship was considerably less important than the companionship element of the relationship. Also, many of the very early domestic cats would also have been hybrid African wildcats because the African wildcat readily mates with the domestic cat. This would have made the cat more of a domestic cat rather than a domesticated wildcat.

It may even be the case that the very first domestication of the North African wildcat occurred primarily because people enjoyed the company of the cat. If I am right the history of the domestic cat should be slightly amended to refocus attention on companionship and away from rodent killing and deterrence.

Today, in America, there are many people who retain this fascination with having a relationship with a small wild cat species and treating the wild cat as a companion, of sorts. The only reason why these people look after small wild cat species is because of the enjoyment they receive from interacting with their cats. It is a relationship of companionship (as best as can be because some small wild cats do not make fantastic companions). I’m speaking of the motivation for the human’s interest in the small wild cat species, namely, interacting with the cat and wishing to become a companion to the cat.

5 thoughts on “Wildcat First Domesticated For Companionship Not As A Rodent Killer”

  1. The fact that a cat skeleton is found next to a human skeleton gives no indication whatsoever on any kind of endearing emotional relationship between human and animal. The cat could have died there (or was killed there) while it was feeding on the deceased body. The two deaths might have even occurred years apart from one another. The cat might have died 100 years earlier, buried in sediments over the years, and the human body buried near it later, the burial-party unaware of any cat skeleton being under nearby soils. It might have even been a religious custom to kill an animal and bury it with a human. Not unlike the 300,000 young mummified cats that were found in Egypt, all collected from other regions or bred specifically for animal-sacrifice purposes. This cat skeleton being 8 months old could have very well been the first signs of using cats for animal sacrifices. In fact, they even used them for food at those times. This could have been an offering so the human had something to eat in the afterlife.

    from news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/sci/tech/3611453.stm

    “It seems the eight-month-old cat in the Cypriot burial was killed in order to be buried with the person. The skeleton shows no signs of butchering, suggesting that it was treated as an individual in death.”

    “But burnt cat bones from a similar period at the site, attest to the fact that humans did eat the animals on certain occasions.”

    There are a thousand other scenarios that would explain the proximity of these two skeletal remains other than any personal emotional ties between human and animal.

    By the way, the custom of burying a person’s animals with the deceased owner in many cultures was not so much that of a respect for the companionship the owner had with the animal in life, but that nobody else wanted the responsibility of taking care of those animals if they weren’t beneficial to the survival of anyone. If not killed and buried with the owner they would become a detrimental burden to the community. Those who kept animals for pets weren’t the norm. If an animal wasn’t livestock or helped any human or community survive it was a waste of valuable resources. Animals like that were viewed as deserving of being buried with the owner.

    • Hi Woody. A couple of lines in your comment have been deleted because they were rude and of no benefit to anyone, but the rest of it’s okay.

      I am simply speculating and I know about everything that you have stated. I know all the angles on this argument but I’m still convinced that the driving force behind our relationship with the small cat in this instance the domesticated African wildcat and hybrids is companionship. It is a form of companionship however you wish to describe it. My argument is supported by the domestication of the grey wolf which happened decades earlier it is believed. People enjoy having a domesticated dog or cat around them and that emotional desire trumps the utilitarian aspect of the relationship. That is all I’m saying about it.

      If you wish to respond to this comment, it is essential that you keep it polite because if you don’t it will be published.

  2. The evidence of companionship between humans and cats at that site in Cyprus seems to have been overlooked in most cases. There are examples of the present-day African Wildcat making pretty good pets, so why not in the days way back when the first steps to domestication were supposedly taken? . Without being attracted to rodent pests in an around human settlements the African wildcat probably would never have come near any human. Step 1. Attraction to prey near humans. . Step 2. development of an inter-species relationship probably aided by adopting kittens. Step. 3 Food given by humans which would stimulate the mother to kitten feeding reflex transferring that relationship to humans.

  3. I think maybe it was a bit of both, people domesticated the cat as a way of controlling rodents but then found out with time that the cat made a wonderful companion too.
    Just as nowadays really, people who have never had a cat tend to look upon them as primarily here as rodent catchers, but if they adopt a cat and get to know him, they soon find out that there is much much more to cats then they ever thought.
    I can’t understand people who hate cats, cats have a purpose as well as bringing love into our homes and they are often the saving grace of lonely people too.

    • i dont understand it either ruth. i wouldnt survive if i didnt have any cats they are a joy for me. I love the fact that they give so much back than i ever imagined. They give joy. I never really been into dogs, although they are nice. cats are just so easy they dont demand atttention, they come and go as they please and can go away without worrying about them.


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