The role of ancient Egyptian cats is quite fascinating. Claudio Ottoni wrote an interesting article this week on the domestication of one of humanity’s favorite companions. Ottoni suggests that the relationship between cats and humans began as a commensal relationship established during the early development of agriculture.
During the neolithic period, humans were domesticating grains in Turkey. As humans gathered these early grains, the harvests attracted rodents looking for an easy meal. The African wildcat (Felix silvesterus lybica) started to encroach upon human settlements. And humans discovered that their new partners had added benefits beyond vermin control.
Despite the commensal relationship cats had formed with humans everywhere, the Egyptians would complete the domestication of the modern house cat (Felix silvesterus catus). While the African wildcat was still hanging out on the fringes of early European settlements, the Egyptians had already invited cats into their homes as pets.
However, one specific aspect to Egyptian cats that may seem strange to us is that the Egyptians trained their felines. You only thought cats trained their humans, didn’t you? The Egyptians trained these felines to hunt. For sport, the Egyptians used trained cats to flush out game while the hunters hurled throwing sticks (see painting above). Early cats were the Egyptian equivalent to the golden retriever.