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.
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.