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Cats' Middle Eastern Origins

It has most commonly been believed that cats are dated to the time of the ancient Egyptians, since cats are well documented and represented in Egyptian art, cat mummies, graves with humans, and in idols.

Egyptian mythology and religion includes the cat goddesses Bastet, Sekhmet, and more. It is well known that ancient Egyptians domesticated and used cats for vermin control and to protect stores of food. For over 4,000 years at least, cats have enjoyed esteem for their hunting abilities, appreciated for their friendship, worshipped, and remembered through mummification.

However, new evidence has arisen from researchers stumbling across a 9,500-year-old burial site on the island of Cyprus. A National Geographic article from April 8, 2004, discusses the amazing ancient cat. Since it was clearly buried with a human as well as decorative artifacts, it seems most likely that this cat was possibly an early domesticated feline, pre-dating any ancient Egyptian find by more than 4000 years.

Cats are now dated to the Neolithic Period (late Stone Age), and it is possible that the Cyprus cat came from Turkey 70 miles to the north on the Mediterranean. From there, they spread towards Italy, then Europe, and eventually, North America. The spread of domesticated felines can be traced in all directions from the Fertile Crescent area.

Genetic studies in recent years of wild cats found in the major geographic regions of the world clearly show that domesticated species of cats have the same genetic grouping with the Near Easter wildcat. Research shows that shorthaired domestic cats can be traced as far back as Egypt while longhaired cats came later from Turkey and Iran.

The Near Eastern wildcat still can be found in the deserts of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern countries. "It's plausible that the ancient [domestic cat] lineages were present in the wildcat populations back as far as 70,000 or 100,000 years ago," said researcher Stephen O'Brien of the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland."

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