MAN’S EARLIEST RELATIONSHIP WITH CATS: DOMESTICATION

CAT DOMESTICATION

 

Cat Burial Cyprus
Courtesy BBC

 

Some scholars believe that based on evidence of terracotta and clay cat figurines found in Syria, Turkey and Israel that the cat’s domestication began in the Fertile Crescent, the cradle of civilization, some 10,000 years ago. Other proof, dating back 7,000 years, gives evidence of the cat’s domestication in Haçilar, Turkey, where archeologists have found 22 figurines of women in various poses playing with cats.  In addition, in Haçilar and Jericho, the bones of small cats appear among the archeological sites of early farming villages dating back to 6,000 and 5,000 BC (Yurco, 1990).  However, other noted scholars disagree on the exact location of the cat’s first domestication.   

 

They believe Felis Silvestris Libyca was first domesticated in Egypt rather than the Fertile Crescent.  From there the cat spread to other surrounding Mediterranean countries on board Phoenician trading ships, undoubtedly laden with cargoes of grain.  French archeologists suspect that this was how the first cat landed in the stone age village of Shillourokambos, Cyprus, where they found a grave of a cat and its master dating to 9,500 years ago (Rincon, 2004). The eight month old cat had been killed and then buried only 40cms away from its approximately thirty year old human companion. What was this person’s relationship to the cat?  Was it religious?  Or was the cat simply a pet?  Because the grave also included the highest number of ceremonial ornaments and shells, more than any other grave found as of yet for the whole Preceramic and Aceramic Neolithic ages in Cyprus, the person was most probably of important social status (Vigne et al. 2004). Both the head of the cat and of the person were facing West with their backs to the South indicating some sort of special or perhaps religious relationship between them.  In addition, there are no cat species native to Cyprus; hence, cats must have been brought via ships from a nearby Mediterranean country.  However, another theory is that farmers brought domesticated cats from Turkey; thus, strengthening the theory that cats had already been domesticated in the Fertile Crescent (Wade, 2007).


 

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