An Animated History of Cats: How Over 10,000 Years the Cat Went from Wild Predator to Sofa Sidekick

Dogs sees us as their mas­ters while cats sees us as their slaves. — Anony­mous

The next time your friend’s pet cat sinks its fangs into your wrist, bear in mind that the beast is prob­a­bly still labor­ing under the impres­sion that it’s guard­ing the gra­naries.

Anthro­pol­o­gist Eva-Maria Gei­gl’s ani­mat­ed Ted-Ed Les­son, The His­to­ry of the World Accord­ing to Cats, above, awards spe­cial recog­ni­tion to Unsink­able Sam, a black-and-white ship’s cat who sur­vived three WWII ship­wrecks (on both Axis and Allied sides).

It’s a cute sto­ry, but as far as direct­ing the course of his­to­ry, Felis sil­vestris lybi­ca, a sub­species of wild­cat that can be traced to the Fer­tile Cres­cent some 12,000 years ago, emerges as the true star.

In a Neolith­ic spin of “The Farmer in the Dell,” the troughs and urns in which ancient farm­ers stored sur­plus grain attract­ed mice and rats, who in turn attract­ed these mus­cu­lar, preda­to­ry cats.

They got the job done.

Human and cats’ mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial rela­tion­ship spelled bad news for the rodent pop­u­la­tion, but sur­vival for today’s 600-mil­lion-some domes­tic cats, whose DNA is shock­ing­ly sim­i­lar to that of its pre­his­toric ances­tors.

Hav­ing proved their val­ue to the human pop­u­la­tion in terms of pest con­trol, cats quick­ly found them­selves ele­vat­ed to wel­come com­pan­ions of sol­diers and sailors, cel­e­brat­ed for their abil­i­ty to knock out rope-destroy­ing ver­min, as well as dan­ger­ous ani­mals on the order of snakes and scor­pi­ons.

Thus­ly did cats’ influ­ence spread.

Bastet, the Egypt­ian god­dess of domes­tic­i­ty, wom­en’s secrets, fer­til­i­ty, and child­birth is unmis­tak­ably feline.

Cats draw the char­i­ot of Freya, the Norse god­dess of love.

Their pop­u­lar­i­ty dipped briefly in the Late Mid­dle Ages, when humankind mis­tak­en­ly cred­it­ed cats as the source of the plague. In truth, that scourge was spread by rodents, who ran unchecked after men round­ed up their feline preda­tors for a grue­some slaugh­ter.

Nowa­days, a quick glimpse at Insta­gram is proof enough that cats are back on top.

(Yes, you can haz cheezburg­er with that.)

Dogs may see our ser­vice to them as proof that we are gods, buts cats sure­ly inter­pret the feed­ing and upkeep they receive at human hands as evi­dence they are the ones to be wor­shipped.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Two Cats Keep Try­ing to Get Into a Japan­ese Art Muse­um … and Keep Get­ting Turned Away: Meet the Thwart­ed Felines, Ken-chan and Go-chan

Medieval Cats Behav­ing Bad­ly: Kit­ties That Left Paw Prints … and Peed … on 15th Cen­tu­ry Man­u­scripts

Edward Gorey Talks About His Love Cats & More in the Ani­mat­ed Series, “Goreytelling”

What Hap­pens When a Cat Watch­es Hitchcock’s Psy­cho

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City Jan­u­ary 14 as host of  The­ater of the Apes book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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