Since the time of the ancient Egyptians, cats have been cherished as beloved companions, worshipped as idols, and kept as agents of pest control and good luck. However, French archaeologists have now found evidence that our close relationship with cats may have begun much earlier than we believed.
The carefully interred remains of a human and a cat were found buried with seashells, polished stones, and other decorative artifacts in a 9,500-year-old grave site in Cyprus. This new find, from the Neolithic village of Shillourokambos, predates early Egyptian art depicting cats by 4,000 years. The process and timing of cat domestication has been terrifically difficult to document, however this joint burial indicates a strong association between the humans and cats and that the it is possibly the world’s oldest known pet cat.
Some experts believe that the Egyptians may have tamed and bred felines to produce a distinct species by the 20th or 19th century B.C. Cats are frequently represented in Egyptian mythology in the form of the feline goddesses Bastet, Sekhmet, and other deities. Cat art and mummified remains are known from as far back as 4,000 years ago. However, researchers have also stumbled across hints that cats were domesticated much earlier. Experts have found 10,000-year-old engravings and pottery that depict cats dating to the Neolithic period (late Stone Age), proving that cats had a spiritual significance even then.
More recently, cat jawbones and other remains not directly linked to human burials have revealed that wild cats were at least associated with early Neolithic settlements on Cyprus. Cats are not native to the island therefore it is believed that humans must have introduced cats to the island.