The Sciences

Even Ancient Civilizations Loved Cats

From Egypt to China, cat companions may have been an important fixture in the lives of many ancient peoples.

By Joshua LearnAug 18, 2022 6:00 AM
Figurine of the goddess Bastet
(Credit: QBR/Shutterstock)

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Cats have been alongside humans for most of the time we’ve lived in complex societies, but the exact chronology of their domestication is unclear.

One study found that cat domestication may have started as early as 12,000 years ago, while another more recent paper points to two different cat lineages that contributed to the domestic felines we have today, though both still likely came from the same species. One of these lineages likely began about 8,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent; the other spread from Egypt into other Mediterranean countries about 3,500 years ago. And one ancient case of kitty kinship dates to roughly 9,500 years ago in Cyprus, where a human was buried with a cat — though it’s unclear whether the animal was wild or domesticated.

In any case, it seems that cats have spread through multiple ancient civilizations, often becoming an important fixture in the lives of the people there. In some cases, cats even took on symbolic religious and cultural importance. Not all cultures treated this domestic relationship equally, though.

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