Studies show that since they first wandered into human settlements in ancient times, cats have pretty much always been…cats. Happy Caturday!
We often joke about the ancient Egyptians’ worship of cats, particularly in light of the way we pretty much still do. My own felines, one in particular, rule our house quite decisively, with both my husband and myself and both our dogs under her paw. But a recent study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution puts the early origins of domesticated cats in a new light…or rather, the same light as modern day. Cats have, apparently, pretty much always been the way they are now.
Not physically, of course. Cats over time have grown smaller and less, uh, terror-inspiring than their wildcat ancestors. But their attitude toward dealing with humans is pretty much on point. Our relationship is a matter of pure convenience. As the study reminds us, “Wildcats are solitary, territorial hunters and lack a hierarchical social structure, features that make them poor candidates for domestication.” But as humans started farming communities and began to stockpile food, rats showed up. Rats provided food and entertainment for wildcats, who started hanging around and doing jobs humans found useful. So, we kept them around, and in their mercy…they kept us.
The study also indicates that cats were not domestically quickly, nor solely by one society. Cats who had grown friendlier toward humans still bred and intermixed with wilder cats, resulting in (over time) a general population that had more sympathy for humans. A few different lines of cats were also tamed in different societies at different times, relieving Egyptian of its monopoly on cat-obsession. Oh, and tabbies? The most common cat coloration we see now? That’s a very recent transformation.
For a bit of contrast, think about dogs for a second: wolves had to undergo far more drastic changes to be useful to humans. Modern day dogs are, in both personality and physical diversity, much farther removed from their ancient cousins. Cats didn’t need to change all that much. They’ve pretty much always been selfish jerks, but for some reason, it’s a trait we admire in them. They’ve also pretty much always been weird and goofy looking and sometimes cute. And, finally, they’ve always given off an air of merely tolerating humans, rather than actually liking them.
(I still think they like us, though.)