Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Group Living, Origins and History of the Domestic Cat

Domestic cats were evolved from the African wildcat Felis silvestirs libyca. The earliest domestication of cats was in  Egypt 4000 yrs ago.

From its sacred origin in ancient Egypt, the domestic cat, Felis silvestris catus, has spread over the globe as a household companion. When cats revert to the wild they are ubiquitous. The domestic cat has brought joyous companionship to people.  Cat populations can be female groups, at least loosely resembling those of lions, Panther leo, and those in which they live solitarily, generally in a territorial pattern typical of most wild felids. They have a capacity to live under constantly changing environments.

Recent genetic studies on cats throughout Italy strongly suggests that the domestic cat, European wildcat and African wildcat belong to the same polytypic species, felis silvestris. The European, felis s. silvestris and African, Felis s libyca, wildcats likely diverged from a common ancestor about 20000 years ago. The domestication of the African wildcat likely began about 40000 years ago in Egypt. Social organization in African wildcats is similar to Scottish wildcats. African wildcats had access to human refuse around which feral domestic cats gathered in colones, yet the wildcats appeared not to form colonies. It is possibly that a capacity to form large groups may have been produced by domestication. No behavior pattern has been recorded among free ranging domestic cats which has not also been reported in other felids, although association with people has made common resources such as shelter and clumped, predictable and abundant food.

Females of all feline species are group-living. Independent adults do not form permanent groups. In mammalian societeis, food and shelter are likely to be the limiting resources for females, while females are generally the limiting resource for males.  The probability that adult female felids will meet and stay together is strongly related to the likelihood of sharing food resources, commonly a kill.   When a rich food source is available, it is more than enough to feed several domestic cats.  Domestic Cats choose to sit together, and each individual favours the company of some over others. These associations are largely determined by the age, sex, social status and blood ties of the individuals involved.  Where once the image of the domestic cat was as one who walks alone, farm cats have complex social relationships. A female may lie in her nest of straw to birth kittens, then in close proximity of time, another cat may come to the nest, greet her and give birth, while the first cat serves as midwife, licks the new kittens, chews the membranes and bites through the umbilicus; they stroke and nurse each others' kittens and continue over several days. Communal breeding is common among farm cats.

Adult females associate with lineages which are the building blocks of feline societies. Large colonies embrace several lineages, each of which consists of related adult females and successive generations of their offspring. Females often interact within their lineage, and to a much lesser extent outside it. The overall parrtern within a lineage of cats is of a well integrated, amiable group. This is in marked contrast to the hostility with which members of such lineages generaly treat outsiders. Bigger lineages tend to occupy the best central area around the resource centre. Smaller lineages are spatially peripheral but have access to the central area to feed. Adult males do not seem to be socially tied to any lineage, but can be around the central resource centre, and those who are not., roam widely. Juveniles and kittens automatically belong socially to their mother's lineages. Offspring of central lineages access the resource centre easily and share lower mortality than those of peripheral lineages.

Domestic cats living on wild prey tend to be solitary and do not form groups, despite substantial home range overlap. In contrast, domestic cats with access to clumped food resources live in groups

Cats and People

Domestication and history of the cat

Origins of the cat
The family Felidea is of relatively recent evolutionary origins. Tee oldest fossil records of modern felids are only 3-5 million years old and molecular evidence suggests that all modern forms shared a common ancestor some 10-15 million years ago. Morphological and molecular studies of phylogenetic relationships among living felids show that the 38 extant species can be divided into 8 major phylogenetic lineages: th ocealot lineage, pantherine, caracal, puma, Asian leopard cat, bay cat, lynx, and domestic cat. Consisting of six species of small cats originating in the Mediterranean regions, it is thought to have diverged from the others around 8-10 million years ago.

It is difficualt to determine whether the domestic cat evolved from the silvestir or libycan line. Gene flow exists between domestic, feral and wild populations.

Bones or teeth provide archeological evidence which indicated a north African or western Aisan F. catus. European wildcats are extremely fierce and timid of people. African wildcats are docile, live and forage near human villages and settlement, capture rats and can adapt to huts. The etymological reason that the cat is likely from north Africa or western Asian origin is that the English word cat, the French chat, the German Katze, the Spanish gato and the fourth century Latin cattus, and the modern Arabic quttah all derive from the Nubian word kadiz, meaning a ca. The English diminutives puss and pussy and the Romanian word for cat pissica are thought to come from pasht, another name for Bastet, the Egyptian cat goddess. The tabby is named afer a special watered silk fabric, once manufactured in a quarter of Bahdad known as Attabiy.

Domestication is a gradual process, it is impossible to claim the exact time and place of cat domestication.  The cat was only fully domesticated during the last 150 years, but it is likely more accurate to view Felis catus as a species that has drifted unpredictably in and out of various states of domestication, semi domestication and feralness according to the ecological and cultural condition prevailing at different times and locations. Archaeological evidence from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus may provide a clue, where excavations of the earliest human settlement on Cuyory date from 6000 BCE. The remains of a cat's jawbone were found, the size of libyca species. No fossils of wildcats were found on the island before dating this, the only explanation is that cats arrived through human colonists, who captured and tamed wildcats long before the speciesawas domesticated.  There are known cat remains from Mostagedda in Egypt, dating from before 4000 BCE were with the bones in the grave of a man.

Since cats caught vermin, people would have encouraged cats to be around their home and granaries, establishing populations of urban cats that relied increasingly on humans for food and shelter. Humans may have been more active in domestication, carrying cats on ocean voyages. Petkeeping is widspread among subsistence gathering and hunting people throughout the world.  They would capture and take home wild animals, adopted by women. They are fed and care for, mourned when they die. The margay, ocelot and jaguar are species that they domesticate.

Predators, like wildcats, would forage the neighbourhood. Some would have nested and reared their young close to this supply of food, then the kittens would have been adopted.

The cat in Egypt
The first fully domesticated cat was in ancient Egypt. Small Egyptian amulets representing cats may be from 2300 BCE, the oldest pictorial representation in domestic context was in a 1950 BCE tomb of Baket III at Beni Hasa. In a pyramidal tomb of similar age, is a chapel containing bones of 17 cats with a row of little pots that may once have contained offerings of milk. From 1450 BCE onwards, images of cats in domestic settings became increasingly common in Theban tombs, it is likely that these were fully domesticated. They are shown eating fish, gnawing bones, playing with other animals.  Theban tombs of Nebamun 1450 BCE shows the cat helping the tomb owner and his family to hunt birds in marshes,  which shows that the Egyptians throught that an outing was incomplete without the participation of the family cat.

Cat domestication proceeded further in Egypt than elsewhere in the ancient world. Egyptians had an unusual affinity for animals in general. From the earliest dynasties onwards, animals played a particular role in their social and religious life.  A diversity of wild animals, including baboons, jackals, heron, ibises and cats were seen as the earthly representatives of gods and goddesses and many were the subjects of organised religious cults. This often involved keeping and caring for substantial captive populations in and around temples dedicated to the workshop of the deities. Species such as cats, who responded well to this treatment, bred in captivity and gave rise over many generations, to a  domestic strain more docile, sociable and tolerant of living at high densities. Their use as rodent catchers made them more valuable, though they would have been kept as cult subjects and household companions regardless of any practical or economic benefits.

Many gods and goddesses were part human, part animal  Most of these and their animal representatives originated in pre Dynastic times as tribal emblems or totems which were then integrated under the Egyptian State, to a complex pantheon along the lines of those in ancient Greece and Rome. Until the end of the third millenium BCE, Felis libyca appears to have had little to no reiligous significance to the ancient Egyptians. From 2000 to 1500 BCE, cats were represented on magic knives, incised ivory blades intended to avert bad luck, including nightmares, threat of poisonous snakes and scorpions. At the same time, the male cat began to be represented as one of the forms or manifestations of the sun god, Ra, and it was in the guise of  a tom cat that he was said to battle a monstrous serpent each night. The Egyptians were familiar with the sight of cats killing snakes, and they assumed that Ra would adopt the form of this animal when requiried to do likewise. The earliest representation of Ra in cat form, depicted animals that more resemble servals than cats, and it is likely that this coincided with the increasing familiarity as a domestic companion. One of the cat forms of Ra known as Miuty continued to be painted on the inside of coffins until the mid eighth century BCE, as a protective image.

During the New Kingdom 1540-1196 BCE cats also began to be associated with the goddess Hathor, and especially one of her manifestations known as Nebethetepet whose most  prominent characteristic was sexual energy. The natural sexual promiscuity of female cats was maybe linked to this. The well known association of domestic cats with the goddess Bastet did not become established until later, around the start of the first millenium BCE.

One explanation for the association between cats and the heavenly bodies involves the widely-believed legend that a cat's eye changes in shape and luminescence according to both the height of the sun in the sky, and the waxing and waning of the moon. The  Egyptian author, Horapollon, writing in the fourth century, noted that the pupils of the cat's eye changed according to the course of the sun and the time of day. The Roman writer, Plutarch, also mentioned the phenomenon, as did the English naturalist Edward Topsell, in his Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes (1607):

'The Egyptians have oberved in the eyes of a Cat, the encrease of the Moonlight, for with the Moone, they shine more fully with the ful, and more dimly in the change and wain, and the male Cat doth also vary his eyes with the sunne; for when the sunne ariseth, the apple (pupil) of his eye is long; towards noone it is round, and at evening it cannot be seene at all, but the whol eye shewth alike.'

Nineteenth century Chinese peasants shared this belief, and used cats' eyes as a means of telling time. The eye shine produced by cats' eyes at night intrigued many early writes. Many believed that cats could generate this light by storing light collected during the day. Many found it disconcerting. The glittering eyes of cats, when seen suddenly at night, 'can hardly be endured, for their flaming aspect'. -Topsell

The cult of Bastete

From the earliest period of Egyptian history, Bastet was the main deity of the city of Bubastis (now Tell Basta) in the southeastern part of the Nile Delta. She was a goddess without a real name, since Bastete means She of the City of Bast. The earliest portraits of Bastet, from 2800 BCE, depict her as a woman with the head of a lioness. On her forehead she bears the uraeus serpent symbol, and carries a long sceptre in one hand and the ankh sign in the other, Her attributes were sexual energy, fertility and childbearing and nurturing. She was associated with other local deiiteis, Memphis, Heliopols and Heracleopolis. She was associated en route, and through a process of local assimilation, with other important female deities, Mut, Pakhet and Sekhmet, goddesses who are often represented as lioness headed,  as well as Hathor, Neith and Isis. Bastet and Sekhmet were paired as complimentary opposites from 1850 BCE,  and eventually came to be regarded as different aspects of the same goddess. Bastet represented the protective, nurturing side, and Sekhmet the dangerous and threatening one. Hathor, Mut, Isis and Bastet were referred to as daughter or eye of Ra.

It is unknown when domestic cats were first were regarded as manifesttions of Bastet, but it is likely during the Twenty second Dynasty 945-715 BCE. Information about the cult of Bastet and her temple is gathered from the writing of the Greek historian, Herodotus, who visited Bubastis aorund 450 BC during the height of the cult. He equated her with the Greek goddess, Artemis, and described her temple.  It is likely that a sacred cattery or breeding colony of cats adjoined the temple. The job of cat  keeper was an hereditary position and stict rules governed the care and feeding of the captive manifestations of the deity.  The annual festival of Bastet, during April and May, was the largest in Egypt, with ovr 700000 people attending, having performed a a pilgrimage by water along the Nile. The licentious atmosphere was likely what made it so popular; people would play rattles, flutes, sing, clap, dance and drink a lot of wine.

 He was the first to record the now well known phenomenon of male infanticide in cats, in order to make the female prepared to mate  The status of cats during this period was roughly that of cows in present day India. Many people had house cats,  and the death of one had the family mourning, shaving their eyebrows as a mark of respect. Those who could afford to had their cats embalmed and buried in special cat cemeteries, vast underground chambers containing the mummified or cremated remains of hundreds of thousands of them. Cat cemeteries have been unearthed at Bubastis, Beni Hasan and Saqqara, a clean indication of the spread of the cult of Bastet. Large numbers of small bronze statuettes of cats were deposited in the sacred burial ground.  The act of dedicating one of the votive statuettes to the temple assured the giver a permanent place beside the goddess. One cemetery contained the remains of 80,000 cats.  Cats were a protected species, causing the death of one, even by accient, was a capital offense, thus anyone encountering a dead cat fled immediately,  Radiographic analysis of cat mummies has revealed that most of them were killed by strangulation before 2 years of age, in order to feed the demand for dead cats to mummify as votive offerings.

From Africa
The Egyptians generally restricted the spread of cats to other countries by making their export illegal. They even sent special agents out to neighbouring parts of the Mediteranean to buy the cats that had been illegally smuggled abroad. Cats eventually spread to other areas although, initially progress was slow. The Indus valley Harppan civilization 2100-2500 BCE provides early evidence of urban cats. Bone remains and the pawprint of a cat being chased by a dog are preserved in mud brick . It is unknown if these were from Egypt or the results of local domestication. An ivory statuette of a cat, 1700 BCE, was found in Palestine. It is likely that Egyptian merchants lived there and brought their cats. A fresco and a terracotta head of a cat from 1500-1100 BCE are from late Minoan Crete, another area which likely traded with Egypt. It does not appear to have reached Greece until later. The earliest representation of the animals from Greece is on a marble block from 500 BCE. Cats were not common at this time and were kept as curiosities rather than for any practical purpose. To get rid of rodents, Greeks and Romans used domestic polecats or ferrets in preference to cats. During the fifth century BCE, the Gerreks introduced cats to southern Italy. The cat does not appear to have been popular, except as an unusual and exotic pet. Neopolitan mosaics from the first century BCE, show a cat catching a bird, but there are few literary or artistic depicitions of cats. The Romans didn't understand the cat's vermin killing abilities unitl the fourth century when Palladium recommended the use of cats, rather than the traditional ferret, for curbing moles in artichoke beds. Cats were slow to reach the Far East. They arrived in China sometime after 200 BCE.
All of the early cats had the wild type, striped or spotted tabby coat, and many feral cats around the Mediterranean retain this ancestral libyca appearance.

The Romans likely introduced cats to northern Europe and other outposts of their Empre. They were already present in Britain by the mid fourth century and their remains have been found in numerous Roman villas and settlements in southern England. In Silchester, an important Roman site, archeologists found a set of clay tiles bearing the impression of cat pawprints. By the tenth century, they appear to have been widespread, if not common, throughout most of Europe and Asia. The sex linked orange color ginger, ginger and white, calico and tortoiseshell appear to have originated in Asia Minor, and to have been transported, possibly in Viking longships, to Brittany,  all over Britain and parts of Scandinavia. The English blotched tabby seems to have spread from a corridor through France along the valley of the rivers Seine and Rhone. For centuries these rivers have formed part of an important inland barge route between the Channel Ports and the Mediterranaean.

Changes in attitude
The gradual eradication of the pagan gods and goddesses, and the rise and spread of Christianity, produced a dramatic change in attitudes to cats throughout Europe. From being benevolent symbols of female fertility, sexuality and motherhood, they became, instead, the antithesis: evil demons, agents of the devil, and the  companions of witches.

It is unclear what caused this change in the perception, although political forces played a role. In order to consolidate its power, the medievel Church showed extreme ruthlessness in repressing unorthodox beliefs, and ridding all traces of earlier pre-Christian religion. Its symbolic links with earlier fertility cults, the cat was caught up in the wave of religious persecution.

Between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, nearly all the major heretical sects-Templar, Walendian, Cathars-were accused of worshipping the Devil in the form of a large black cat. Many modern accounts described how their rituals involved acts of ceremonial gratitude toward huge cats which where supossedly kissed on the anus. Alan of Lille even claimed to derive the term Cathar from the Old Latin word for cat, cattus, which was untrue. Under Christianity, cats also come to be clsoely associated with witchcraft, although the nature of this varied from place to place.  Like their heretical predecessors, witches were said to fly to their gatherings or sabbats sometimes on the back of demons disguised as giant cats. The devil also displayed a strong preference for appearing to his disciples in the form of a monstrous cat, supposedly. At the level of popular or folk culture, it was more common, in northern Europe, for people to view cats and hares as the preferred forms adopted by witches when engaging in acts of malice. In 1211, Gervase of Tiklbury attested from experience to the existence of women 'prowling about at night in the form of cats' who, when wounded, 'bear on their bodies in the numerical place the wounds inflicted upon the cat, and if a limb has been lopped off the animal, they have lost a corresponding member'. In 1424 a shapeshifting witch named Finicella was burned in Rome for allegedly trying to kill a child when she visited in the form of a cat. The child's father drove the cat away, wounding it with a knife. Later she was found to have a similar wounds on the same part of her body. Stories of this type were very widespead in medieval and post medieval witchcraft folklore, and they provide an interesting connection with another well known diabolical role of the cat, that of the archetypal witch's familiar.

The familiar or imp was a demonic companion who the witch dispatched to carry out her evil deeds in return for protection and food. One child claimed his mother was a witch, citing Tyttnety, a little grey cat and Jacke,  black like a cat, as her helpers. People claimed that witches turned into cats to make them and their children ill. Cats predominated in the role of witch's familiar. They continued to do so throughout the entire period of witch trials in England, and have since become the ubiquitous Hallowe'en icon.

As demons incarnate, these animal familiars had a degree of autonomy. The cat familar and cat as transformed witch were basically the same, in several cases, witches were reported to suffer parallel injuries when their familiars were wounded, and sometimes the prosecution witnesses believed that the familiar was the witch transmogrified,  witnesses attested to being visited and tormented by the cats, one had the face of the witch.

Some of the hostility toward cats that emerged during this period may have had a medical basis. Witchcraft folklore is rich with tales of witches taking on the form of cats in order to sneak into people's houses to smother them in their sleep. In one of the earliest references to allergic asthma, Topsell, in 1607, stated: 'thebreath and favour of Cats consume the radical humours and destroy the lungs, and therefore they which keep their Cats with them in their beds have the air corrupted, and fall into several Hecticks and consumptions.' As recently as the 1920's local superstitions held that it was unsafe for a cat to sleep in a child's cot or bed due to the danger of suffocation, and a recent survey in the US found that respiratory allergies are one of the most common reasons given by people for giving cats but not dogs, to animal shelters.
With such a wealth of negaive associations, it is not surprising that cats became objects of widespread persecution throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and the early modern period.

By associating cats with the devil and misfortune, the mediveal Church seems to have provided the superstitious masses of Europe with a universal scapegoat, something to blame and punish for all of life's numerous dangers and hardships.

A stong element of misogyny also underpinned this intense hatred toward cats. Medieval and early modern Christianity was dominated by an all powerful male priesthood who held very ambivalent attitudes toward women. Medieval clerics accepted Aristotle's evaluation of the female cat as a particularly lecherous animal that actively manipulated males on to sexual congress. Thus a strong metaphorical connection was established between cats and the more threatening aspects of female sexuality.  The natural behavior of cats reinforced the association. Female cats, especially in oestrus, solicit physical contact and enjoy being stroked and caressed but they are also notoriously coy and unpredictable, demanding affection at one moment, scratching or running away the next. Sexually, the female cat is very promiscuous, unashamedly invinting attentions of several males. She is also a back biter, often turning around and attacking her partner right after mating.

For the ancient Egyptians, these normal feline atributes, with maternal devotion, were admired and celebrated. For the sexually suppressed cleric of medieval and early modern Europe, however, they seem to have inspired  horror and disgust.

Europe was not the only region to draw negative links between cats and women. Malevolent, spectral cats were a common element of Oriental folklore, and in Japan popular legends were of monstrous vampire cats who assume the form of women in order to suck the blood and vitality from unsuspecting men. The Japanese applied the work cat to Geishas on the ground that both possessed the ability to bewitch men with their charms. According to superstition, the tail was the source of the cat's supernatural powers. This belief may also explain the origin of the genetically unique, bob tailed cats of Japan.

The cat's ambivalent relationship with humans is another possible clue to its victimization. The dog and cat are two of the few domestic species that do not need to be caged, fenced in or tethered  in order to maintain its links with humans. Cats tend to display a degree of independence which is unlike dogs, and which makes them inclined to wander at will and indulge in noisy sexual forays, especially during darkness. Cats lead a double life-half domestic, half wild, part culture, part nature, and maybe this non-conforming to human (male) standard of proper conduct is part of what led to their subsequent harassment.

By exploiting the comfort of domestic life while simultaneously enjoying the pleasue of a wild night, the cat became the object of official condemnation and persecution, by challenging the convenient dualistic world view.  The cat was a symbol of humanity's baser qualities. The image of the cat remains damaged, by its older unruly reputation.  In the majority of Islamic countries, attributes of dogs and cats are reversed; cats are tolerated and to some extent, admired.

The domestic cat has now spread to virtually every part of the inhabited world. Across most of Europe and North America it has now overtaken the dog as the most popular companion animal. Very recently, the cat was despised and distrusted for its lack of deference and its failure to acknowledge human domination and superiority. It has been negatively portrayed as the chosen ally of womankind.  In nineteenth century Pais and elsewhere in Europe, cats were associated with artisans and intellectuals, by virtue of their independence, and lack of adherence and obedience to social rule and conventions. This represented a marked turning point in attitudes toward cats, and proceeded their widepread adoption into bourgeous society as fashionable middle class companions.  Many people still regard the sudden appearance of a cat as a sign of bad luck, and others fear or dislike them, perceiving them as avoidant and untrustworthy,. The cat's long standing association with women and female sexuality is still implied by the slang, 'cat house', 'pussy'. Hopefully the legacy of negative attitudes toward cats will continue to disappear, as people learn to accept the benefits of living with this clean, affectionate and very companionable species. 

Cats have been valued since ancient times for their rodent catching abilites, and they have acquired religious and symbolic importance in many societies. Attitudes toward them as symbols, have ranged from reverence to abhorrence. In ancient Egypt, cats were worshipped and protected as representatives of Bastet,  goddess of fertility and motherhood. In medieval and early modern Europe, on the contrary, they were a metaphor for female sexual depravity and social unruliness and were persecuted and despised.  In symbolic terms, cats still appear to evoke a certain ambivalence of feeling in many Western countries, though, within the last 10-20 years, they have finally surpassed the dog as the world's most popular companion animal.

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