The history of
cats has been since the beginning of writing.
An Ancient Egyptian figurine of a cat, from the Louvre museum.
The exact history of human interaction with cats is still somewhat vague. The
earliest written records of attempts to domesticate cats date back to ancient
Egypt, circa 4000 BC, where cats were employed to keep mice and rats away from
grain stores. However, a gravesite discovered in 1983 in Shillourokambos,
Cyprus, dating to 7500 BC, contains the skeletons of a ceremonially buried human
and a type of young cat. Since cats are not native to Cyprus, this suggests that
cats were domesticated (or just tamed) at least this early. The cat found in the
Cyprus grave was more similar to the ancestral wildcat species than to modern
housecats. . Statues from Anatolia created around 6000 BC have
also been found depicting women playing with domesticated cats, which implies
that cats were domesticated there around the same time period.
Ancient Egyptians regarded cats as embodiments of the goddess Bast, also
known as Bastet (emphasizing the female -t suffix) or Thet. The penalty for
killing a cat was death, and when a cat died it was sometimes mummified in the
same way as a human. Recently, deep scans of several mummified felines indicated
they had suffered broken necks before mummification. It is unclear why, but
researchers theorize that some cats may have been sacrificed to honor Bast.
Recent research indicates that cats were so popular in tombs that sometimes
other animals would be wrapped up in the form of a mummified cat.
used cats as rat catchers and companions and are sometimes credited with the
domestication of the
Norwegian Forest Cat, or Skogkatt. The Viking goddess of love, fertility and
war, Freya, was
strongly associated with cats, as they were considered her sacred animals. She
was often portrayed in a chariot drawn by two horse-sized winged cats. Kittens
were often given in her name to brides, linking together Freya's influence over
both cats and romance.
In the Middle Ages, cats were often thought to be witches' familiars (e.g.
greymalkin of the first witch in Macbeth's famous opening scene), and during
festivities were sometimes burnt alive or thrown off tall buildings.
The human killing of cats in the middle ages has also been cited as one of
the reasons for the spread of the plague, which was spread by the increased
rodent population caused by the death of so many cats.
In Asia, the cat is one of the animals in the 12-year cycle of the
Vietnamese zodiac. However, it does not appear in the Chinese zodiac. Legend
holds that the rat, who invited the animals to the Jade Emperor's Palace to be chosen for the zodiac, forgot to invite the cat, so
the cat declared the rat its natural enemy. Another version of this story
involves betrayal. As the mice and the cat were crossing a river on the back of
an ox to the Palace, the mice pushed the cat into the river so the cat would not
beat the mice to the palace.
In most Western cultures, cats are rarely eaten outside of extremely
desperate times. However, cat meat is sometimes used to prepare regional dishes
in some areas of China and Korea. Some outrage has been generated when cats have
been confused with the
Civet cat (also sometimes called a "bearcat"), an Asian animal related to the
that slightly resembles the domestic cat and is occasionally used as a source of
The cat is highly respected in Islam because of tales that the prophet
Muhammad approved its domestication by one of his companions. This companion was
nicknamed "Abu Hurairah" or "Father of the little cat". In Islam, it is
considered a commendable act to feed a cat milk. There are numerous stories
about cats in Islam. One story tells of a cat that saved Muhammad from being
bitten by a deadly snake. In another tale, when Muhammad was called to prayer he
found his cat Muezza asleep on the sleeve of his robe; the prophet cut off the sleeve
rather than disturb his cat. In a famous Hadeeth, a woman was doomed to Hell
after she kept a cat till it starved to death.
dating back to as early as 1607 holds that a cat will suffocate a newborn infant
by applying its nose to the child's mouth, sucking the breath out of the infant.
A jury in England once found that a child met his death from a cat sucking the
breath out of him; this conclusion was probably reached because of the
widespread acceptance of the tale. Many explanations are given to attempt to
support it, the most common of which is jealousy from the cat towards the
infant, as a result of the level of attention that the infant receives. Another
explanation advanced is that the smell of milk from the infant's mouth attracts
the cat to do so. However, it has been shown that, unless the cat had been
raised on milk, they prefer to drink water.
It is a common belief that cats have a "sixth sense" and can sense
spirits, or evil.
Today some people still believe that
are unlucky or that it is unlucky if a black cat crosses one's path, while
others believe that black cats are lucky. Black cats in particular are
festivities. Because of this, many cat rescue groups will not adopt out black
cats during the month of October because they are concerned that the prospective
owners are only going along with the season and, as a result, will not make a
lifelong dedication to the pet. They are also afraid that the prospective owners
will do away with the cat because of its alleged unluckiness. Some
animal shelters will not adopt out cats of any kind (or sometimes pets in
general) around Halloween because they are afraid, as a result of the
moral panic claims of believers in Satanic ritual abuse, that the animals will be sacrificed. A far more
plausible fear is that they may be used in Halloween-oriented pranks which could
hurt or kill them.