Cats are curious. Worldwide they are the most numerous pets of humans. Yet their origins were lost in mystery, if not the shrubbery – until today. Now we report that Oxford scientists have finally cracked the origin of the pussies.
Some animals were domesticated for agriculture: cow, pig, sheep. Others for transport: horse, donkey, mule, pigeon. Others for hunting: dog, ferret (if you count pit bulls and mustelids as domesticated). But the cat walks on its own. Unlike the other animals, it is not gregarious. Dog looks up to its human, slobbering for affection.
Pig looks human straight between the eyes, as its equal. But cat looks down on the slobbering human. For cat began its association with humans as an equal commensal, not a slave. It fed from the same table. In Cyprus 9,500 years ago cats came in from the cold to eat the rodents infesting the grain stores of the first farmers.
Genetic material has now demonstrated that all our domestic cats are descended from five females from the Near East. Their matricattery stretches back 100,000 years before any archaeological record of domesticated cat. This discovery of where cats come from has interesting implications for metaphor as well as ecology. Cats and dogs come together, like Blairites and Brownites, by scratching and biting. Dogs are bigger and noisier. But when hiss comes to bark, the arched back and spitting defiance usually win.
Unscientific sampling indicates that cats and dogs are equally divided as pets among readers of The Times. To alienate any reader unnecessarily is a foolish act, but The Times at present votes dog in this eternal election. Understandably, the cat lover will condemn us to the doghouse.