Cats were first domesticated in Egypt around 4000 years ago but their history among humans goes back wayyyyy further! Wild cats lived with the people of Mesopotamia 100,000 years ago and to have been domesticated at around the same time as dogs, sheep, and goats! How awesome is that? The Near Eastern Wildcat is the closest relative of the domestic cat of today and was bred by Mesopotamian farmers, to control mice and rodents which were attracted by grain.
Cats association with ancient Egypt is remarkable. The people of the Egyptian culture were famous for being devoted to cats so much so that the export of cats from Egypt was SO strictly prohibited that a branch of the government was formed solely to deal with this issue. Would you believe that their devotion to our feline friends was so great that government agents were sent out to other areas to find and return cats which had been smuggled out? WOW! I couldn’t believe it either!
In 450 BCE, the penalty in Egypt for killing a cat was death (though this law is thought to have been observed much earlier). The goddess Bastet, commonly depicted as a cat or as a woman with a cat’s head, was among the most popular deities of the Egyptian people. She was the protector of women’s secrets and was the keeper of hearth and home as well as the guardian against evil spirits and disease, and most importantly the goddess of cats.I’m seriously considering changing the name on my birth certificate now!
Egyptians cared so much for their cats that they placed their safety above human life and property. Let’s say a house caught fire, the Egyptians would be more concerned with rescuing the cats than with anything else.They would run back into the burning building or form a barricade around the flames to keep the cats safe. When a cat died, everyone in the house would shave their eyebrows as a sign of deep mourning. Cats that died were buried in a special place and in special containers. The period of mourning was considered finished when the people’s eyebrows had grown back. Mummified cats have been found throughout Egypt, and were sometimes buried with, or near to, their owners as proved by identifying seals on mummies!
So dear friends, this is just a tiny taste of our weekly feature, Cats Throughout History. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this segment and I look forward to next Wednesday!