Upmarket Friday cat blogging

Kipling’s fable of the domestication of cats has been partly confirmed.

All cat owners (as we uncertainly style ourselves) recognise the psychological truth of Rudyard Kipling’s great fable of domestication, The Cat that Walked by Himself: cats are our commensals, but they do not submit to us as pack leaders like dogs or sheep. But Kipling’s chronology is out. Dogs were domesticated all over the world by Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers at least 15,000 years ago, and possibly starting as much as 100,000 years ago – about the age of our species. It’s fanciful to think the Woman in the cave had anything to do with it – the ancestral dog packs would have followed hunting parties of men, and learned to cooperate with them. Cats make their appearance much later in the fossil record in early Neolithic tombs in Cyprus; the current estimated domestication date for cats is around 8,500 BCE, 1,500 years before the domestication of First Cow, a large and dangerous aurochs. But a saucer of the First Goat’s milk could have been available.

It has taken twelve cat-loving geneticists to prove that the domestic cat descends exclusively from the Near Eastern strain of the Eurasian wild cat, felis silvestris. The date and regional specificity can’t just be a coincidence. It’s exactly when and where Eve invented agriculture, the source of all our woes and glories. (The “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” was a wild grass.) Agriculture meant stores of grain; stores of grain meant mice and rats; mice and rats drew in cats, who to their surprise would have found themselves rewarded. Kipling was therefore right to put both Woman and Mouse centrally into the story.

Update: reader cgoffii objects to my male-hunter story of dog domestication, “since women most likely cooked, they were most likely the ones who threw out the scraps”, which proto-dogs scavenged and gradually became less fearful. Both of us may be right. But who cares about dogs anyway?

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web