The History of the Cats
The History of the Cats
By Andrew McGregor
Archaeologists have estimated that the ancestors of cats date back to 200 million years ago. The ancestors of cats are a group of meat eating animals that include the tiger, panther, leopard, lion and cheetah, all of these being skillful hunters. These animals all fit into the ‘felius catus’ family. They have extraordinary senses including hearing, sight and smell which are up to 10 times better than human senses. Scientists estimate that the domestic cat that we know today have been around for roughly 2 million years.
No one knows for sure, but most people believe that the Egyptians were the first ones to tame the wild cat in around 3500bc. These tamed cats were not just pets but were used to protect farms and gainery’s from being over-run by pests including mice, rats, cockroaches and snakes and any other animals that were harmful to their grains. About 2000 years later the domestic cats were considered sacred and were worshiped by the people of Egypt. Laws were made against harming cats and anyone who did were executed. At one point they were considered above royalty and the pharaoh. When a cat died the family that owned it shaved of their eyebrows as a symbolic of the person’s mourning. The family then went to a sacred ceremony where the cat was mummified and placed in a temple or a tomb. There were eventually more cat mummies than human mummies around Egypt and archaeologists found a single tomb containing more than 250 000 cat mummies.
Cats were honoured in paintings, sculptures and scriptures in temples, tombs and pyramids made by the people of Egypt. Many of the upper-class Egyptians owned pet cats, but poorer people could not afford to own one but if they owned a farm or grainy it would protect their crops and grains.
Because cats were skilful hunters many people wanted them to kill pests that lived in their homes. Egyptian law stated that it was strictly forbidden to export cats to neighbouring countries. Historians believe that unlawful traders brought the tamed cat to countries such as the Middle East and Europe. Gradually people wanted cats into their homes and into their local community. The domestic cat spread all over Asia and eventually to nearly everywhere people lived. At one point during the Middle Ages people were suspicious that cats were associated with witchcraft and the devil. For this reason people started to kill cats all over Europe, anyone who owned a cat was thought to be practising witchcraft and was killed. There were no cats to kill mice, rats and other pests, they started to take over; people became very sick and died because of the deadly diseases that they carried. About one quarter of Europe’s population died because of this. People eventually changed their mind, cats became popular again and people accepted cats back into their homes.
Today cats are the second most popular pet, with dogs being first. Today, 1/5 of households own a cat. They are popular because they are one of the easiest pets to look after and because of their loyalty, affection and playfulness. There are many different breeds today but there are 36 main pure breeds.
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