History and origins of cats

Sphynx - hairless
Sphynx - hairless

Basic information about cats in inglish

Origins of cats, It has the air of someone who knows them all. And, certainly, the cat has behind him a remarkable story, a story that has gone through a long evolution that has led him to be considered a divinity by the ancient Egyptians and that has forced him to suffer terrible persecutions during the Middle Ages, to arrive, finally, between the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth, to a rehabilitation that will lead it to be considered a pet, appreciated for its beauty and for its cunning and independent character, sometimes so mysterious and fascinating to be included in children’s stories and fables. hat’s why we will see History and origins of cats

Origins

History and origins of cats
History and origins of cats

If we look for the origins of the cat, we must go back to its most remote ancestors: the Miácidos. These lived in the Paleocene period (sixty million years ago), they were quite small in size but had a structure that made them formidable predators: from them all carnivorous species developed. Later, in the Oligocene (about thirty-four million years ago), Felidae appeared among carnivores.

They were mainly characterized by a spherical skull, strong and pronounced zygomatic arches (due to the powerful chewing muscles), jaw joints with vertical movement (instead of lateral as in herbivores), ability to walk on the fingers (called digitigrades), nails retractable and pupils that, in the presence of light, become vertical slits. Among the Felidae, the Eusmilus, large slow felines but endowed with strong saber-shaped canines, and the Pseudailurus, huge agile and flexible cats, very similar to today’s Felidae, were first distinguished. A good example of the Pseudailurus is the Smilodon (Greek for “knife tooth”), which dates back 23 million years and whose fossil remains have been found in the hundreds in a tar field at Rancho La Brea in California.

The Smilodon

The Smilodon is, as it were, the first member of the modern cat family to be endowed with a size similar to that of a tiger, with somewhat thick limbs and formidable saber-shaped canines. Between the Smilodon and the genus Felis, as we know it today, a long time passed; In the Neozoic, 1.8 million years ago, the true progenitor of modern cats appeared, the Felis lunensis, from which the Felis silvestris comes. A later and clearer distinction occurred during the Pleistocene (about six hundred thousand years ago) when, due to evolutionary process, the Felis differentiated themselves from the Panthera family (which includes the lion, tiger, leopard and jaguar). and that of the Acynonix (of which the cheetah is part) acquiring a more precise identity.

When spreading rapidly twenty thousand years ago, the Felis silvestris gave rise to four feline species: the European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris), robust and with a dense coat, the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), domesticable, the wildcat Asiatic (Felis silvestris ornata) and the desert cat (Felis margarita). The Felis silvestris silvestris must have been an absolutely wild and inaccessible animal; Therefore, our current domestic cat, Felis silvestris catus, is descended from the cross between the African and Asian wildcat that lived in Iran and India, and that, it seems, was more easily related to man. It is precisely difficult to date the time when the cat, or at least one of these felines, was domesticated.

Surely, due to his wild nature and his need for freedom, he joined the man’s house late: indeed, cave paintings never represent him, although animals were one of the favorite subjects. In compensation, in many historical civilizations, the cat has personified some of the divinities, while in others it has been associated with the concepts of fertility and fecundity or has become a symbol, positive or negative, of sensuality. For this reason, and not only for its elegance and beauty, its image has been one of the favorite subjects in amulets and jewelry.

Ancient Egypt and the cat

maine coon big cat
History and origins of cats: maine coon big cat

The first finds of remains of animals similar to our domestic cat were made on the island of Cyprus and are dated at six thousand years. But we must emphasize that the historical period for which the most testimonies of the cat are known in art and in society was the Egyptian period, more specifically around 2130 BC.

In Egypt the cat originally led a wildlife on the banks of the Nile delta, feeding on birds, mice and snakes. But soon the Egyptians realized that this feline could become a very useful ally for the extermination of mice, which, coinciding with the periodic overflows of the Nile, invaded fields and barns every year. For this reason it began to be domesticated and idolized, worshiped as an emblem and as a personification of the gods. In particular, he embodied the god Osiris, who, when he did not want to be recognized, transformed into a cat, and especially the goddess Bastet, who had the body of a woman and the head of a cat.

There was no man or woman who did not possess an amulet of the goddess Bastet, protector of the house and fertility, guardian of health and the very personification of light and heat. Naturally he was the divinity most loved by all the people. Consequently, in Egypt the export of cats was prohibited, which were considered divine and that for no reason could they leave the country.

With the advent of the first Ptolemaic dynasty and the abolition of pagan cults promoted by Theodosius, the cat lost its divine role and its privileged position: it was fed with fish from the Nile and, on its death, it was embalmed and mummified . Egypt, through art, bequeathed us a magical image of the cat represented in precious frescoes, but above all sculpted in splendid and “very modern” statues with stylized lines.

The cat in ancient Greece

History and origins of cats
History and origins of cats

It is narrated that, in the period when Egypt banned the export of cats, someone (perhaps Macedonian and Phoenician merchants) managed to smuggle some couples and took them to Greece, where, until that moment, only weasels were used to hunt rodents. Very soon the cats replaced them (among other things because, unlike those, they did not attack other animals in the pens) and they began to be considered suitable companion animals. Some quotations included in texts by Herodotus, Aristophanes and Callimachus are illustrious testimony to the presence of the cat in Greece. In art, the pictorial decoration of a vase and a bas-relief of the Battle of Marathon (5th century BC) depicted a cat confronting a dog.

During the roman empire

The presence of the cat in ancient Rome was not contemporaneous with its appearance in Greece, but manifested itself many years later. During the empire, according to the culture of the time, large animals endowed with aggressiveness were appreciated and admired above all, as symbols of power. For the Romans the cat was mainly an effective means of defending food stores and granaries; Despite being little valued for its independence, it had a great diffusion thanks to the expansionist policy of the empire.

On the other hand, the development of agriculture made necessary the presence of animals capable of facing the threat of rodents. Even in Gaul and in Great Britain small statues have been found that testify to the spread of the cat.

Middle Ages

History and origins of cats
History and origins of cats

Toads, snakes, mice, and cats were some of the banned animals during the Middle Ages. Considered malefic, instrument and manifestation of the devil, the cat was persecuted and exterminated. The advent of the first Christianity, characterized by the good-evil dichotomy, did not make life easier for him: his movements, considered lascivious, the fact that he hunted preferably at night and his independence made him the most hunted animal.

The women who cared for them or who simply owned a black one, incarnation of Beelzebub, were designated as witches. Their extermination, which almost led to their extinction, led to the proliferation of mice and rats, with the consequent spread of serious epidemics, such as the plague, throughout Europe. Only towards the end of that dark period do we witness the appearance, also in figurative arts and frescoes, of images of cats portrayed in a familiar environment.

In religious painting, on the other hand, it was not customary to include images that represented the cat precisely because the culture of the time considered it to be in close contact with the Evil One.

The Renaissance and the cat

History and origins of cats
History and origins of cats

During the first Renaissance, a period in which culture was still influenced by the Middle Ages, the cat began to make an appearance, albeit marginally, in some paintings in which it was represented alone, never close to man. At this historical moment, the spread of diseases and epidemics led to a progressive appreciation of domestic cats as they began to appreciate, at least, their ability to hunt.

At the end of the Renaissance the profound cultural change led to a general appreciation for animals; furthermore, the scientific study was favored, thereby increasing the knowledge about its function and behavior. In this way the cat became part of family life not only as a useful animal, but also as a companion. Even monasteries and convents were forced to have at least one partner to eliminate the mice. Finally, in art he was increasingly represented in paintings with a family theme, which highlighted his proximity to man.

From the Enlightenment to the present

History and origins of cats

During the Age of Enlightenment – a historical period in which reason and rationality triumphed – superstitions, religious fanaticisms, and popular beliefs were put aside. In this way, the Enlightenment allowed the cat to regain freedom and, between the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, it grew numerically throughout Europe, spreading rapidly among families.

Century of the cat

But the “century of the cat” —if we want to call it that — was the nineteenth century. During Romanticism it became an emblem of the writers of the time. The new literary trend influenced not a little in the feelings of the people, who in this way abandoned the last prejudices towards the animal and The presence of the cat in ancient Rome was not contemporary with its appearance in Greece, but manifested itself many years later .

During the empire, according to the culture of the time, large animals endowed with aggressiveness were appreciated and admired above all, as symbols of power. For the Romans the cat was mainly an effective means of defending food stores and granaries; Despite being little valued for its independence, it had a great diffusion thanks to the expansionist policy of the empire.

On the other hand, the development of agriculture made necessary the presence of animals capable of facing the threat of rodents. Even in Gaul and in Great Britain small statues have been found that testify to the spread of the cat. Middle Ages Toads, snakes, mice and cats were some of the animals outlawed during the Middle Ages. Considered malefic, instrument and manifestation of the devil, the cat was persecuted and exterminated. The advent of the first Christianity, characterized by the good-evil dichotomy, did not facilitate his life: his movements, considered lewd.

by Enciclopedia de los gatos

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