Cats and humans: an ancestral bond.

They appeal to us with their smooth and elegant movements, they fascinate us with their gaze of vertical pupils and their physical strength. We fear their claws as sharp as their seemingly independence because they don’t yield to anything and as the German saying claims: “cat education is not that difficult, only after a few days they have taught us the most necessary things”. A saying that illustrates very well that we humans adapt to them more than they adapt to us. Despite having some detractors, the truth is that there are three times more domestic cats in the world than dogs. And if we translate these figures to our continent, there are hundred millions of domestic cats in Europe and eighty millions of dogs. Even though dogs are claimed to be man’s best friend, cats are the most chosen pet in the world and their allure is obvious if we think of the forty million people in the UK that watch cat videos every day. But why do we humans like these little felines so much? In this post, and the following one of the 12th of August, I will try to review the key aspects that have brought the furry animals to become allies with us and have made of them a number one star in the social media.
From all animal kingdom, the cat is the carnivore with the biggest eyes as compared to the size of its body. The cat’s eyes allow it to see with very little light and they cover 220 degrees. Its vertical pupils are specially suited to be able to measure correctly prey from the ground, which is extremely necessary since the cat can’t run for a long period of time.
But not only cats’ eyes are a technology wonder, also their sense of smell is extraordinary because they can hear six times better than us, poor humans. The muscles in their ears allow cats to turn them round independently.
As for their whiskers they act as an antenna and help them get oriented even in low light. And if we talk about their body muscles and flexibility it is important to highlight that they are proportionally stronger than tiggers. Cats are robust and strong, capable of incredible leaps, of falling on their four legs from impressive heights and they are real hunting machines. For all these reasons humans found them both fascinating and useful when they discovered us and decided to come and live in our homes about eight thousand years ago.
As Doctor John Badshaw claims, the decision of the humans to adopt the cat is a mixture of two factors: on the one hand, cats are outstanding hunters and they kept rodents far from our pantries and on the other hand, their facial features trigger in human beings natural instincts that make us want to protect them. If we analyse the face of a cat, the most remarkable traits are its big eyes, the small kin and nose and the round face. These features remind us of human babies and our brain is programmed to react positively to these. They are called by the German “Baby Schema” and they trigger what in English is called “cute response”. It has been scientifically proven that when humans observe babies, our bodies secrete the hormone dopamine at nearly the same level as when we watch cats. Moreover, when we are near babies or cats, we are automatically more careful in what we do. To sum up, cats were useful animals and with their lovely faces that resembled those of babies, we humans wanted them around.
In addition to their facial features, I would add that human beings were allured by the strength and power of cats because as Victor Hugo said: “we have home a tiger to stroke”.
The origin of our domestic cat dates back some eleven million years ago in the jungle of South-east Asia. This was the birthplace of the later “Felis Silvestris Lybica”, the wild cat that decided to come and live with us. But when did it come closer to humans? We might go back between eight and six thousand years BC in the fertile crescent. This was a vast area that covered the Mediterranean Levant and reached Mesopotamia and Persia and it was rich in corn and animals that could be kept in herds. Exactly in this part of earth, men put into practice the very basics of agriculture allowing them to grow the plants and grain they wanted to store afterwards in primitive warehouses, so that they could eat them at their convenience. Agriculture and livestock farming made it possible for men to have enough to eat without having to go hunting or collecting plants and fruits. This revolution meant humans had a great deal more time than ever before, hence this is the place where all ancient first magnificent civilizations were born. But with civilisation and the primitive warehouses the rodents took their chance to fill their stomachs without big efforts and the small creatures turned to be a threat to the well-being of these settlements. Until the wild cats, in their quest for food, came closer to the Neolithic settlements to take advantage of the great amount of opportunistic fresh meet there.
A grave was discovered in Cyprus with a young man buried approximately 40 centimetres away from a cat about eight years old. They were laid in the grave in a ceremonial way. Both are oriented to the west and the tomb is in the middle of a settlement that dates back to 7,500 BC. As the wild cat is not from Cyprus, one must consider that the first settlers brought it with them to control plagues. Since the cat was laid so accurately next to the man in the tomb, researchers have concluded there must have been an emotional bond between the two.
However, what scientists know for sure is that cats became part of the primitive homes as early as in Ancient Egypt. This country, with its river Nile fertilising the land it flowed through, was immensely rich in corn and grain and the use of the cats to control plagues was of pivotal importance to that civilisation.
Cats were adopted for being useful animals at first but with time they started being worshipped. Egyptians truly adored lions due to their strength and they were considered the guards of the Pharaohs. But this civilization worshipped different animals at different times and in a later stage, during the second Dynasty, cats were venerated, and they had an own goddess: Bastet. It was the divinity that represented protection, love and harmony.
The relationship between cats and Egyptians might seem contradictory. They adored them so much that when a cat of the family died, Egyptians shaved their eyebrows as a sign of mourning. Yet cats were mummified to be offered to the goddess Bastet in the temples devoted to her and the demand grew so fast that cats were held in temples only to be sacrificed and mummified later. It took seventy days to finish the mummification’s process, so you can imagine that the cat mummies turned to a very lucrative business with an imminent threat: cats were beginning to be scarce so the demand could not be met. This explains why a lot of cat mummies contain only parts of the animal and some not even animal matter.
In addition to it, Egypt had trade relations with Persia and Persians got to know cats, they liked them, and they imported them to Persia. Cats were suddenly goods to be smuggled since taking cats out of Egypt was forbidden by law in the lands of the Pharaohs. And the Persians took the cats to India. Cat started to inhabit in vast areas of the world, yet its real spread was still to come…
To get to know more, follow the post next week.