While the exact history of human interaction with cats is still somewhat vague, a shallow gravesite discovered in 1983 in Cyprus, dating to 7500 BCE, during the Neolithic period, contains the skeleton of a human, buried ceremonially with stone tools, a lump of iron oxide, and a handful of seashells. In its own tiny grave 40 centimeters (18 inches) from the human grave was an eight-month-old cat, its body oriented in the same westward direction as the human skeleton. Cats are not native to Cyprus. This is evidence that cats were being tamed just as humankind was establishing the first settlements in the part of the Middle East known as the Fertile Crescent. The lineage of today’s cats stems from about 4500 BC and came from Europe and Southeast Asia according to a recent study. Modern cats stem from two major lines of lineage. Cats are present in histories of most if not all countries, empires, dynasties and continents of the world even those that they are not native to. In ancient Egypt cats were known as the mau, and played a large role in ancient Egyptian society. They were associated with the goddesses Isis and Bastet. Cats were sacred animals and the goddess Bastet was often depicted in cat form, sometimes taking on the war-like aspect of a lioness.Killing a cat was absolutely forbidden. Families took their dead cats to the sacred city of Bubastis,where they were embalmed and buried in sacred repositories. The earliest unmistakable evidence of the Greeks having domestic cats comes from two coins from Magna Graecia dating to the mid-fifth century BC showing Iokastos and Phalanthos, the legendary founders of Rhegion and Taras respectively, playing with their pet cats. In Norse mythology, the goddess Freyja was associated with cats. Farmers sought protection for their crops by leaving pans of milk in their fields for Freya’s special feline companions, the two grey cats who fought with her and pulled her chariot. Cats in Orthodox Christianity are the only animals that are allowed to enter the temples. According to Russian law, a huge fine was imposed for killing a cat, the same as for a horse or ox. To this day cats roam the streets of Cairo and Alexandria virtually unchecked, and seeing one’s glowing eyes in the darkness of an alley bring both a sense of wonder and a sense of danger.
Story by Natalia Kolove.