Cats are fascinating creatures. They grace our home with their elegance; they snuggle and purr and keep our laps warm … when they choose to, of course. Those outdoors keep our barns and neighborhoods free of mice and other rodents. But, just where did this adorable creature come from?
Documentation shows that domesticated cats first appeared in Egypt around 3500 BC. As nomadic tribes travelled, cats trailed along with them. The tribes settled in fertile areas where they could stay put, grow crops and become farmers. This was the perfect situation for cats – there was an unlimited food supply in the resulting rodent population. The Egyptians came to appreciate the local cats and their work to reduce the rodents that could damage their crops and grain. As rewards, they started feeding discarded food scraps to the cats, encouraging them to stay in their villages, and eventually took them into their homes.
Cats became very important to the early Egyptians, who began to purposely breed them in temples and honored them when they died. Today, we know that thousands of cats were mummified and buried in temple grounds in Egypt.
A slow migration throughout the trade routes of Asia, along with merchants in caravans and on ships, introduced the cat into the middle-east countries of Syria, Turkey and Persia (now Iran).
Eventually, the migration reached India and China, where the cats were valued because they kept mice away from the precious silk stock and rice paper manuscripts. The cats were taken into Japan by monks. From the far east, cats then doubled back into Europe along the silk trade routes that traveled from China, north through Russia, and then west into eastern European countries.
As it travelled, the diversity of the cat was developed through various inter-species breeding along the way and certain definitive “characteristics” began to appear. These characteristics have helped to develop and define the individual breeds of cats that we have today.
For example, documentation and historical records do not tell us the exact source of the longhair gene, but we do know that longhair cats called “Angora” were in Turkey and in Iran (formerly Persia) and were imported into Europe.
The natural longhair cats, in Turkey as far back as the 1600’s, are what we now call the Turkish Angora breed. Various longhair cats including the Angora, were selectively bred to become the much-loved Persian breed of today.