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Cat History

Andrew (polandeze) [Flickr]

The Abyssinian Cat is one of the oldest breeds of domestic cats in the world.  Its history dates back to the time of ancient Egypt.  With its ticked coat and body shape it has the appearance of an African wild cat.  However, like many of its feline cousins, it is intelligent, active and playful and makes a great pet.  When you adopt a cat, you are sharing your home with living history!


The latest issue of The Atlantic has an article with an intriguing title - “How Cats Used Humans to Conquer the World.” It is based on a study of the DNA of ancient cat remains. Previous studies had looked at the DNA of modern cats in different parts of the world and tried to determine just where and when these furry creatures became part of the human culture.

Instead, the new study focused on the oldest cat remains they could find, including feline mummies from Egyptian tombs. They were surprised to find that there were two distinct DNA groups – one originated in Egypt, possibly around 4,000 BC, and the other in ancient Turkey around 8,000 BC. They speculate that as agriculture developed in that part of the middle East, the grain attracted rodents, which in turn attracted wild cats. The farmers saw the cats as helpful for pest control, so the relationship was born.

As humans began traveling to other parts of the area, they took cats with them, even aboard ships where they were helpful for catching mice. That helped spread the DNA of early domesticated cats throughout the ancient world.

The line of cats that developed in Egypt had slightly different DNA. It’s clear from ancient Egyptian artwork that cats lived with humans as pets, and eventually as objects of worship.

The researchers believe cats have not changed much over the millenia. They are still about the same size and shape, just not as wild. They are now accustomed to living with humans and enjoying many of the comforts and conveniences we offer. Unlike dogs, who were selected and bred for specific tasks, leading to a wide variety in sizes and shapes, the cat still does what comes naturally. No one had to teach it to hunt. Even a kitten will pounce on its prey, even if it’s just a catnip mouse on a string.

One difference with the cats of today is the coat and color variations. June is Adopt-a-Cat Month, the perfect time to find one of these amazing creatures to share your life. Visit your local animal shelter or rescue group and take home a feline friend to conquer your world – and your heart – when you’re speaking of pets.


Mindy Norton has been “Speaking of Pets” on Alabama Public Radio since 1995.
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