Today, in millions of households across the globe, there are modern domestic cats lounging on couch cushions or in special kitty hammocks, batting around catnip-filled plush toys, and shnubbing dinner bowls filled with lovingly poured gourmet kibble. Why? Because we humans adore our kitties. We just can’t help it. And our love for them goes back a long, long time.
Of course, not every modern kitty enjoys such luxury, and there certainly have been times and places in history where cats have suffered due to awful (and false!) superstitions. But today, because it’s Caturday and because we’re celebrating all the ways we LOVE our feline friends, we’ve gathered some interesting, happy facts about the history of kitties — and their people.
- According to a 2007 report in Science, it’s speculated that humans and cats began living in close quarters as early as 12,000 years ago — around the time humans had begun to develop agriculture and store surplus crops. The crops attracted small creatures such as mice, and the mice attracted wild cats, who hunted them. This was the beginning of a centuries-long symbiotic relationship between cats and humans. (To say we domesticated cats would be egocentric. The authors of the study suggest it’s more likely cats “domesticated themselves.”)
- In ancient Egyptian culture, cats were considered sacred. Their safety was prioritized over human life, and to kill (or even export) one was to incur the death penalty. They were so beloved that whenever a cat did die, everyone who’d lived with him or her would shave their eyebrows to signify a period of mourning, which was considered complete only after their eyebrows had grown back.
- Although ancient Egypt tends to be the culture most commonly associated with cats, kitties were prominent in the religious texts of many other ancient cultures as well. Many stories from India, Persia, China, and Japan, for example, featured cats as having magical or divine powers.
- It is believed that cats were first transported to Europe around 1,000-900 BC by traders from Phoenicia, an ancient civilization on the Mediterranean. Cats were brought on ships primarily to hunt rodents, but over time they also established themselves as excellent seafaring companions — and the tradition of having a “ship’s cat” has remained to the present day. Researchers have found evidence of cats aboard Viking ships dating to between 700 and 1,000 AD, and some cats in modern history have even been awarded medals of honor. (Hey, look at these pictures of cute kitties aboard naval vessels!)
- Even though cats and humans have lived together for centuries, the notion of keeping a cat purely indoors wasn’t common until the late 1940s, when a man named Edward Lowe invented cat litter.
- Today, there are approximately 85 million pet cats in the U.S., and hundreds of millions of domestic cats throughout the world.
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