Mysteries surrounding felines!


Joan Henderson
Felines never fail to amaze us…here are a few facts about the history of cats, which will add to their mysterious lives.
According to history, the origins of the domestic cat can be traced back more than 12-13 million years. It was thought that it  resembled a small weasel-like creature called Miacis.
Cats in Egypt: Cats were used to guard Egyptian homes,warehouses filled with grain and also temples. Today cats are well known to be kept in similar warehouses where they are extremely clever at catching rats and mice that wanted to eat grain or crops that were stored in them. In the days gone by, thieves did not like to break into warehouses that housed cats because they considered that they would attack anyone they did not know. Also in days gone by, Egyptians were known to worship cats and they were known as Mau as this was like the sound of meowing cats. It was a crime to kill a cat and those who did so were, in many cases, put to death. Mourning a cat went on for several months and a new cat was not brought into a home until the pet parents of the cat who died felt that they had sufficiently honoured him. Egyptians also worshipped a goddess whose head looked like a cat’s head and she was called Bast or Pasht and perhaps this is where our word PUSS comes from. Following the accidental death of a cat in Egypt by a Roman soldier, it is thought that a war between Rome and Egypt was started and known as the Battle of Actium and it is thought that it ended with the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra. Cambyses of Persia, in 529 BC, used cats against the Egyptians. All his soldiers were given cats and because the Egyptians were fiercely against harming cats, or almost any animal, the Persians army easily won the war with very little effort on their part.
Cats in Phoenicia: Cats were even used as a bartering tool when the Phoenicians traded their tin ore with the Cornish tin miners and these were probably the first cats to enter the British Isles. The first pair of domestic cats to enter North America was taken there by a French missionary as a gift to the Indians.
Cats in China: The Chinese considered the gift of a cat to be highly favoured by ministers and high ranking workers. In the early days there were so few cats in Greece that those who owned one were considered to be extremely fortunate and held in high esteem. In the 1800s, a farmer, who knew no better, dug up an ancient Egyptian burial ground which contained several thousand mummified cats and there were even a few mice that had been buried with the thought that the cats had food in their next life. He sold the bodies as fertilizer!
Cats in Wales: A prince in Wales in the 900s would not allow the killing of any cat. If anyone broke this law, they were heavily penalised and had to contribute valuable grain or cereal … as most farmers were quite poor this was a very heavy penalty. Back in the 10th century in England an article was written in a book of Welsh laws that the cat was a very precious animal and had to be treated accordingly and with great respect. The Scots considered the cat to be a marvellous fighter and guardian of grain and many highland crests have a cat on their shields.
Cats in Siamese: The King of Siam gifted two of the first Siamese cats to go to England and it has always been considered that this pair was the origin of the Siamese cats we know today. They were a much sturdier and heavily built cat than those now bred worldwide and a great deal of work has gone into the breeding of the finely built and very elegant Siamese we now see.
Cats in Germany: The people of Freiburg consider the cat to be their heroes as following the Second World War; cats were used to control the rat population and thus helped in the prevention of serious epidemic. So, look at your cats who give you so much affection today and remember that their life was not so easy long ago.
(Joan Henderson is based in Australia and she has judged furry felines in many other countries including USA, Bermuda, Malaysia, South Africa, Hong Kong, Philippines and New Zealand.)