The first point to make is that the relationship between cat and human is mutually beneficial or it was at the time the first domestication took place. The wildcat is "self-domesticated". He or she chose to become domesticated because it made life easier. This first act of domestication took place long after the dog had become domesticated. This is probably because the cat is more independent and not naturally a pack animal. Over the thousands of years of domestication the cat changed in appearance and skills (slightly) although there is still a wildcat waiting to get out of every domestic cat.
Scottish Wildcat, this is the Scottish version of the cat that domesticated him/herself thousands of years ago and physically the appearance is very similar. The Scottish wildcat is pretty tough and wild however. Photo by Fred Dawson
It is not completely clear as to when domestication first took place but:
- a cat's tooth was found in Jericho, Israel, that has been dated at 9,000 BC
- cat's remains dated 5,000 BC were found in Cyprus
- cats' remains dated 4,000 BC were found in Indus Valley, near Harappa
- Egyptian cat remains date back to 4,000 BC also - a man was buried with a cat by his feet
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What happened next in the transition from wildcat to domestic cat? What was once a wildcat gradually became domesticated and changed:
- the cat became socialized being in close proximity to people, particularly offspring who may well have been raised around and by people
- the fantastic and classic camouflage of the tabby coat (the wildcat has the classic agouti and tabby coat) gradually became redundant
- perhaps the body shape changed a bit as well from a stocky (cobby) strong body to one that was more "refined" and I guess less able to survive in the wild (see cat body types)
- easy survival meant becoming less sharp mentally so the brain shrunk too (the most intelligent domestic cats today are the wildcat hybrids)
- and the alimentary canal, the digestive system would have altered over time to take into account the altered diet (grain free cat food).
From Wildcat to Domestic Cat to Cat History
Photo of statue of Bastet by adriaan bloem. Both photos: