Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cats in the Ancient World

Although it has been commonly accepted that cats were first domesticated in Egypt 4000 years ago, their History among human beings goes back much further. Wild cats are now known to have lived among the people of Mesopotamia over 100,000 years ago and to have been domesticated there approximately 12,000 BCE at about the same time as dogs, sheep, and goats. Archaeological excavations in the past ten years have provided evidence that the Near Eastern Wildcat is the closest relative of the modern-day domestic cat and was bred by Mesopotamian farmers, most probably as a means of controlling pests, such as mice, which were attracted by grain supplies. The writer David Derbyshire cites a 2007 CE research project in which, “the study used DNA samples from 979 wild and domestic cats to piece together the feline family tree. They looked for markers in mitochondrial DNA - a type of genetic material passed down from mothers to kittens which can reveal when wild and domestic cat lineages were most closely related.” This project was headed by Dr. Andrew Kitchener, a Zoologist at the National Museums of Scotland, who writes, "This shows that the origin of domestic cats was not Ancient Egypt - which is the prevailing view - but Mesopotamia and that it occurred much earlier than was thought. The last common ancestor of wildcats and domesticated cats lived more than 100,000 years ago” (Derbyshire). Dr. Kitchener’s findings built upon the evidence of cat’s Domestication provided by the discovery in 1983 CE of a cat skeleton in a Grave dating to 9,500 BCE on the island of Cyprus. This find, made by the archaeologist Alain le Brun, was important because Cyprus had no indigenous cat population and it is unlikely that settlers would have brought a wild cat, by boat, to the island....

So begins my article, `Cats in the Ancient World', published yesterday through Ancient History Encyclopedia. This is probably the longest article I've ever written for the site and I find it strange that an article on cats should be longer than pieces I've written on the history of Mesopotamia or the Maya. Credit for this flood of inspiration has to go to my wife, Betsy, a long-time cat lover, who has filled the house with cat statuary, cat literature, and, yes, four actual cats. These cats, Draco, Eggnog, Little Kitty, and Luna, also deserve a share in the credit as they actually left me alone during the writing of the piece instead of, as usual, annoying and distracting me.

The full article may be found here:

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