From Wildcat to Domestic Cat

This is a look, in outline, of the transition from wildcat to domestic cat. We are so used to the domestic cat that we forget sometimes that there were none some 9,000 years ago. There are an estimated 500,000,000 worldwide now.

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
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
The development of agriculture in Egypt along the Nile provided ample opportunity for the wildcat to find prey more easily around crops and granaries. Perhaps initially the farmers treated the small wildcat as a pest until realizing that her presence was beneficial in keeping down the rodent population that nibbled at the grain.


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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 redundantBastet
  • 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).
The cat is a fearless and skillful hunter and this skill would have been used to kill not only rodents but snakes and other dangerous animals. Gradually the domestic cat became to be revered in Egypt and then worshiped (the god Bastet and see Egyptian Cat Art) The end of the beginning of the transition from wildcat to domestic cat was when the domesticated cat was exported by Egyptians and later Romans throughout the region.

From Wildcat to Domestic Cat to Cat History

Photo of statue of Bastet by adriaan bloem. Both photos:

2 comments:

  1. Nice coverage of recent history, the latest research shows the domestic lineage to go back 120,000 years however, back to the middle east; it seems they first lived alongside people then but it was the Egyptians that really "mass produced" the concept

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Steve, thanks for the comment. I would like to know more about that. You couldn't point me in the right direction, could you?

    ReplyDelete

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