How and when we domesticated the cat

There domestication it is the process of incorporating wild species, whether animal or plant, into human social structures. It is a gradual and complex phenomenon that involves both biological and cultural aspects. Among domestic animals there is no doubt that dogs and cats reign, which today are widespread throughout the world. The domestication of the cat began in Fertile Crescent about 12,000 years ago (even if the data has considerable uncertainty), in the era of the invention of agriculture and the first sedentary populations, and was due to the fact that cats “defended” our cereal supplies from us, obtaining in exchange guaranteed food and protection.

Where and when the cat was domesticated: the origins

According to the most recent studies, the domestication of the cat began around 12,000 years ago in the territories of Fertile Crescentstarting from one relation established between our species and Felis silvestris lybicathe subspecies of African wild cat. The oldest evidence of the presence of domestic cats in human social structures is found in Cyprus and dates back to 9500 years ago. When human populations (once nomads and hunters) began to develop settled agricultural societiesthe African wild cats found an excellent one source of food represented by little ones rodents, increasingly abundant among the cereal supplies that men stored near their settlements. This, obviously, was also useful for human populations, for whom a problem was “solved”. A relationship of coexistence was therefore established that led benefits to both species: over time, humans and cats learned to benefit from this relationship and domestication gradually improved.


How and when the domestic cat spread around the world

The wild cat it is a widely distributed species, which we find in much of Eurasia and Africa. From studies conducted on Mitochondrial DNAtransmitted matrilineally, it has emerged that its domestication originated in the area of Fertile Crescent and that, from there, the domestic cat spread thanks to Homo sapiens throughout the rest of the world.

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Among the first findings of its domestication, we find cat remains in a tomb human in Cyprus, dating back to 8500 BC. Cats are not native animals to the Cypriot island, and this indicates that it was Homo sapiens to take them with him during his travels. As time passed, the relationship between cats and humans strengthened and in some civilizations, such as that of Egyptians, after 1600 BC this feline was even considered sacred. Just think about the goddess Bastet: a deity depicted with the body of a woman and the face of a cat. From Egypt the cat soon crossed the Mediterranean Sea on board boats and in 500 BC there are traces of it in Greece.
A few centuries later, when i Romans they took control of the territories of the Nile delta and the city of Alexandria, the cats spread throughout the empire on board ships that passed through the strategic city port.

Around the year 1000, it was very common to find domestic cats in every European city and village. It was also thanks to the trade routes that connected Rome to China that the domestic cat spread to Asia. As regards America, however, it is thought that the cat arrived there much later, in the voyages that followed that of the famous navigator Christopher Columbus.

How is cat domestication different from dog domestication: the differences

If we compare the domestication of the cat to the domestication of the dog, we must know that the former occurred in a much less marked manner than the latter. Even today, though physiology, ethology and genetics, domestic cats and wild cats are more similar to each other than are dogs and wolves. So similar, in fact, that they belong to the same species, Felis silvestris.

Various scholars have tried, over the years, to give a scientific name to the domestic cat, therefore we find the words in books and on the web Felis catus, Felis silvestris sub. catus And Felis silvestris sub. lybicabut, since they are interfertile animals and genetically belonging to the same species, it is possible to consider domestic cats as different populations of the wild cat (Felis silvestrisprecisely).


L. Signorile. (2013). A monster in the house. The Sciences Blog.