Aug 7, 2017 11:34:00 AM
By Christopher Parsons
The domestic cat (Felis catus) is known today to be in majority of households. A long time ago, cats were also owned by humans; however, there were other reasons that people kept cats back then and valued them much higher in other countries. Taking a look at how times have changed will give you a better understanding where felines evolved from and why we have them as pets today.
The evolution of the domestic cat goes really far back, about 200 million years ago beginning with the Creodont order. These were reptile-like fish eating mammals, where all carnivores evolved from, including dogs. The descending order of the feline and the canine is carnivora (meat eating mammals), and the ancestor that they share is the Miacid. Miacids lived approximately 60 million to 55 million years ago and were incredibly similar to our modern day weasel in size and shape. These animals were arboreal forest dwellers and insectivores. When the Miacid (Miacoidea) divided into two separate carnivore families; Miacidae and Viverravidae, this distinguished obvious dog and cat characteristics bringing us closer to the Canidae (dog) and Felidae (cat) families. The size and shape of the skull as well as other factors began to change.
The Viverravidae family; founded approximately 48 million years ago, eventually lead to the domestication of cats and other cat-like creatures such as hyenas and mongooses, where as the Miacidae family branched off to evolving dog-like creatures. After this Viverravidae development, the Proailurus lemanensis feline was founded in French deposits and lived in Europe and Asia about 30 to 25 million years ago. Fossils of this carnivore were discovered in Mongolia, Germany, and Spain. This is the first factual cat to evolve from this family. This lead to the evolution of the Pseudaelurus genus about 20 to 8 million years ago which is a further ancestor of the domestic cat, breaking apart into two groupings; Machairodontinae, which is the family of factual and extinct sabre-tooths and the Schizailurus, which is the ancestor that was indistinguishable from the modern cat; thus, creating the Feliade family approximately 18 million years ago. After the Felidae family was established, the Felis Genus was developed approximately 12 million years ago leading us to smaller cats such as the Pallas cat (Felis manul). This is the only living species out of the two first modern day felines; where Felis lunesis is extinct.
It was believed that the earliest known record for feline domestication was discovered about 4000 years ago in Ancient Egypt. Egyptians once believed that felines gave good luck to their owners and if one was killed, even by mistake there would be a death penalty. If a feline died for any reason, their owners shaved off their eyebrows to mourn the death of their cats until they grew back, together with mummification. It was then believed that Ancient Chinese people owned felines about 5,300 years ago in a Yangshao village as five feline leg bones and two pelvic bones where found around this area. It was proven in their bones that their diets were high in grain millet derived from eating rodents that also ate grain millet along with the Chinese villagers. It has been reported that the earliest evidence of feline domestication has been proven through the discovery of a 9,500 year old joint burial where a domestic feline and human remains were found on the Cyprus Island. No further information about their relationship has been discovered.
Given that there have been three findings of feline domestication in Egypt, China and Cyprus we know that between 9,500 to 4000 years ago feline domestication existed; which led to our present relationship with our own modern day felines including the Domestic Short Hair, Himalayan, Persian, Siamese cat and many more!
Past vs. Future
In ancient times, domestic felines were mostly wanted by people that were transporting or holding grains on farms, shops, on sea or in homes for killing rodents like mice and rats which are attracted by grains, as rodents carried diseases such as the Black Death disease. This was incredibly problematic in Europe around the years of 1346-53. The domestic feline has come a long way. People may still use felines for this reason, but we mostly keep them as pets to be added as a member of the family to fulfill companionship, for improving our mental health, reducing heart disease and many more proven benefits.