Several Years Ago
I wrote this article to post on my website. However, that website has long since disappeared and is no longer working. Since the post was about the history of cats, nothing has really changed in that aspect. Cats have been around for a very long time and will probably be roaming the earth after humans as a species has vanished from the face of this spinning rock we call Earth. If you don't already know how cats came to be, then this post is for you.
Cats have a long and storied history. It is thought that the domestication of cats may have existed as far back as the Neolithic period. A genetic study conducted in 2007 showed that all house cats are descended from as few as five female African Wildcats around 8000 BC in the Middle East.
Cats have extremely good hearing along with sharp retractable claws and teeth that allow them to hunt small game. Cats also possess strong, flexible bodies with quick reflexes and an ability to see in the darkness that allows them to better hunt their prey.
Cats are currently the most popular pet in the world with an estimated population in the United States alone exceeding 80 million according to a survey in 2007 by the AVMA. The number of feral cats in the US is about equal to that of pet cats in the country. It is therefore extremely important that sterilization programs are in place to help curb the population of these animals where possible.
The evolution of cats to what they are today took many millions of years. The modern carnivorans evolved from miacoids and this also includes cats. From the Miacoid species originated the first cat or Proailurus which first appeared about 30 million years ago. There were some other species which were like cats; however, they were not within the Carnivora species. It is believed that cats made their way to North America via the Bering land bridge approximately 18.5 million years ago. Interestingly, there was a species of animal named the Nimravids, or better known as the sabre-toothed cat. Although not considered true cats, these animals did indeed exist. It is at about this time that the feliforms in North America died out and disappeared. It is thought that the disappearance of these animals was due to global cooling, causing changes in the hunting ground these animals needed to survive. The period between the demise of these cat like creatures and their return is known as the cat gap in history.
It is unknown when the domestication of cats first occurred, but a shallow gravesite discovered in 1983 in Cyprus, dating back to 7500 BCE, contains the skeleton of a human, buried ceremoniously with stone tools and some seashells. In a grave 40 centimeters (18 inches) away, was an 8-month-old cat, with its body pointed in the same direction as the human. Since cats are not native to Cyprus, this suggests cats were being tamed as humans were establishing the first settlements in the Middle East.
Cats were first domesticated to protect food stores, which often contained grains. Mice would often get into the food stores and eat the grains. This relationship between humans and cats was a beneficial one as the cats had a reliable source of prey and the humans received pest control.
During the Middle Ages, many thought cats were in alliance with the Devil because of their distant and independent nature. Since many thought the Black Death was God's punishment for those who sinned, cats were killed in large numbers. A king of Wales, Hywel the Good, later made it illegal to kill or hurt cats.
Cats in modern times are still used for pest control, but mostly they are pets. Currently, there are more than 50 breeds of cats. This number varies between various cat associations as some breeds that are recognized by one association, may not be recognized by another. At this time, it's estimated that there are about 600 million cats in the world, with about 100 million of those being wild. By comparison, there are an estimated 525 million dogs in the world, so cats are the more common pet. Dogs may be catching up, but it looks like it will be some time before they do.
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