Columbus might have gotten his own national holiday for discovering the New World back in 1492, but in our eyes, every day is Cat Day. Our feline friends are the real conquerers of the world, having made it a long way from prancing around the Greek Islands during 7500 B.C. to becoming the world's most popular house pet. This Columbus Day, we're taking a look back at how our kitten pals managed to climb, scratch and conquer their way to the top since, well, the beginning of time.
The modern house cat stems from one of five types of wild cats: the European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris), Central Asian wildcat (F. s. ornata), sub-Saharan African wildcat (F. s. cafra); and the Chinese desert cat (F. s. bieti). "These five types managed to interbreed at various times, with the result being Felis silvestris lybica, which appears to be the ancestor of modern house cats," said Carlos Driscoll, a researcher from Oxford University studying the origins of our beloved feline friends.
(Source: USA Today)
Feline Fossils and Archaeology
The earliest archaeological evidence of domesticated cats was found on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where several kinds of animal species were introduced in 7500 B.C. But even before that, a cat burial was found next to a human burial at the Neolithic site of Shillourokambos, which dates all the way back to 9500-9200 B.C. In 600 B.C., female figurines carrying cats were found in Hacilar, Turkey. Additionally, researchers believe that domestication of cats can be traced to more than 100,000 years ago in the Middle East. In sum, cats have been around for a really long time.
Walk Like an Egyptian ... Cat
Research suggests that you have the Egyptians to thank for that adorable ball of fur canoodling you on the couch. In 2012, a DNA study revealed the remains of ritually slaughtered cats in Egyptian tombs. Jennifer Kurushima, head of the project at U.C. Davis, believes that Egyptians were likely to have been the first cat breeders. It's no surprise that they had a love for cats — just take a look at the Great Sphinx — her head may be human, but her body is that of a lion. They also worshipped feline goddesses, like Bastet, the cat goddess of beauty, women and fertility.
(Source: The Daily Mail U.K.)
While the Egyptians wanted to keep cats to themselves, it was inevitable that their obsession for the cute creatures would spread to the rest of the world. It is believed that Phoenician traders were responsible for exporting cats to Europe, where there was an increasing rat problem. Just like the Egyptians had used them to protect the Nile Valley from mice, the Europeans wanted to use them to help protect their agriculture. Monks were responsible for bringing them east to the Orient. Romans were believed to have smuggled them back to their homes.
The Move to the Americas
It's believed that the domestic cat was introduced to the Americas by the European settlers. In fact, Columbus' ships carried cats. Perhaps history's most famous explorer was a cat lover himself! Cats typically were used to get rid of rats on the ship, but they were also taken along as pets. Research found that cats in Central and South America shared the same genetic ancestry with Spanish cats, which suggests that their ancestors arrived from Spanish ships. Some people believe that the Vikings were the first people who brought cats along with them, but there is no archaeological evidence of this.
(Source: Messy Beast)
The Working Cat
Although your house cat may be a professional lounger, her ancestors were originally raised to work. Their ability to protect grain from rodents marked the beginning of their domestication. While they were wilder than the modern house cat, they were probably still treated like pets, and fed for their hard work.
House Cats by the Numbers
According to the National Pet Owners Survey, more than 37 percent of U.S. households own at least one cat. Cat ownership is at an all-time high, with 45.3 million households saying that they have a feline family member. That comes out to approximately 88.3 million pet cats across the country. Some surveys suggest that more families have a dog than a cat, but there are more pet cats than there are dogs because there are more multi-cat homes than there are multi-dog homes.
(Source: Pet Food Industry)
Next: Test Your Cat Skills!
Cats' Control of the Internetz
Cats have catapulted to Internet stardom for obvious reasons: They're cute, they're funny and they're sassy. But at a deeper level, there might just be a scientific explanation behind their total control over the Web — and our minds. Philosopher Michael Newall says that our interest in cats derive from their resemblance to our children. A cat's big, round eyes, small nose and dome-shaped head make our inner nurturer squeal with delight. Steve Dale, a cat behavior consultant and pet journalist, thinks that it's because the cat community convenes on the Internet, whereas canine lovers can meet at the dog park or during walks. Mieshelle Nagelschneider, author of "The Cat Whisperer: Why Cats Do What They Do — and How to Get Them to Do What You Want," thinks we're just really enamored by the things that cats can do. How does Maru fit into all those cardboard boxes? We'll keep watching until we figure it out.
(Source: New Republic)