A Purrfect Match – Archaeology of the Domestic Cat

When we think of the domestication of dogs, an easy picture comes to mind: humans and dogs hunting side by side. Cats, on the other hand, are shrouded in a bit more mystery. How did these highly temperamental creatures end up in the laps of pharaohs and on the couches of our homes today?

Studies suggest that the relationship between cats and humans began in the N

Felis Lybica (African Wildcat)

eolithic period, with the Felis Lybica (or African Wildcat) moving with early farmers to the European continent. Evidence for this comes from the discovery of Felis Lybica bones in Poland dated between 4200 – 2300 BCE (Sloat 2020). This aligns with the transition of humans to an intensely sedentary lifestyle focused on agriculture. Such a lifestyle would certainly draw the attention of rodents, evident by the many documented accounts of rodent infestation in farming communities. Cats, drawn by the large supply of prey, would have begun interaction and dependency on human activity, leading to domestication.

However, this is not the definitive start of domestication for cats. A study by Dr. Krajcarz was conducted by analyzing the carbon and nitrogen isotopes in bone collagen. It revealed that although cats certainly benefited from human activity (evidenced by traces of fertilizer), much of their diet was still from independent hunting (Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun 2020). Over a long period, selective breeding would likely turn these wildcats into the domesticated cats we know and love today.

Further east, we can observe the possible domestication of cats through Egyptian art. One of the first artistic interpretations of cats is shown in the tomb of Baqet III, around 2100 BCE, which depicts a cat at odds with a rat (Bileta 2021). This also lends credence to the theory that cats were lured by the rats that surrounded human civilizations. A change occurred around 1450 BCE when tomb art began showing the cats in indoor settings, alongside royalty (Bileta 2021). Cats began to be depicted on or near chairs, suggesting some form of domestication.

A cat is depicted at its owner’s feet. Interestingly enough, all earliest domesticated cats were striped. Spotted cats did not emerge until much later

A shift away from art can be found in the sarcophagus of a cat called Ta-Miu, the pet of the pharaoh’s son Prince Thutmose. The cat was buried similarly to nobles at the time, suggesting that the ancient Egyptians began to regard cats as very important pets. Of course, this is also obvious when we look at Egyptian deities with feline features. Most famous is the goddess Bastet, who was depicted both with a domesticated cat’s head and as a cat herself. Interestingly, Bastet initially had a lioness’ head, switching to a cat as cats gained prominence in Egyptian society (Bileta 2021).

There may yet be evidence that dates feline domestication further back, but this seems unlikely given that cats were not likely to be buried until much later.


Links of Interest:





Bileta, Vedran. “Cats in Ancient Egypt: The Wild Companions Who Became Gods.” TheCollector, November 29, 2021. https://www.thecollector.com/ancient-egypt-cat-gods-goddesses-bastet/.

Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun. “5,000 Years of History of Domestic Cats in Central Europe.” Phys.org. Phys.org, July 13, 2020. https://phys.org/news/2020-07-years-history-domestic-cats-central.html#:~:text=Nonetheless%2C%20the%20earliest%20cat%20remains,domestic%20cats%20in%20Central%20Europe.

Sloat, Sarah. “Cats Chose Humans Very Early: Archaeological Testing Has Upended a Common Historical Principle.” Inverse. Inverse, July 13, 2020. https://www.inverse.com/science/are-cats-even-domesticated.

The Archaeology of Horses: The Invaluable Tools in Human Evolution

The Archaeology of Horses: The Invaluable Tools in Human Evolution

By: Sydney Cort

           The relationship between humans and horses is particularly unique as they served as much more than just companions for people from the paleolithic period to the modern age. Horses transformed the lives of humans as they served as a means of transportation, weapons of war, a sustainable food source, vehicles which facilitated trade and carried goods, and much more. An abundance of horse bones were found in Eurasia that date to roughly 2.5 million years old to 10,000 B.C years old  (AIA, 2015). These bones were degraded in a way that suggests that they were butchered and this reflects that during early human times, horses were an important food source  (AIA, 2015). Additionally, the value of horses during this period is illustrated as images of them in the form of cave art appear more frequently than any other animal (AIA, 2015). Evidently, the earliest humans viewed these animals as a core part of their lives. 

           As people began to domesticate the horse, they were used in ritualistic and spiritual funerals as a sign of status. In the excavation of the sixth-century B.C. tomb of a Chinese ruler, Duke Jing of Qi, the remains of upwards of 200 horses were discovered buried with him. Archaeologists believe that this is representative of Duke Jing of Qi’s immense fortune and social status in his society  (AIA, 2015)

           Horses were symbolic of power and societal ranking as they were exceedingly useful in battle. Soldiers on horseback were given an enormous advantage in battle as they were faster, more protected, and being atop a horse gave them a better vantage point and an advantageous position to fight their enemies that were on foot. Prior to this use of horses, chariotry was used primarily for travel and battle in eastern Europe, but chariots hindered soldiers from fighting in certain areas whereas riding horseback in battle was suitable to almost any terrain. Evidence of this use of horses was found in a tablet dating to 1400 B.C that accounts the training cycle and care instructions for horses used in battle and for riding in modern day Syria and southeastern Turkey (AIA 2015)

           Archaeologists are able to track the domestication of horses through analyzing their bones and specifically are focused on the “bit wear” on the bars of the horse’s mouth (in front of the second premolar) where a bit rests when a horse is being ridden (Taylor, 2020). In the image below, bit wear from this ancient horse being ridden is shown. This method of tracking whether a horse was ridden is not entirely accurate as archaeologists have misrecognized wear on the skull and teeth of horses as bit wear in the past. Despite this fact, bit wear is generally a good indicator of whether a horse’s remains come from a domesticated animal (Taylor, 2020). The process of dating remains and determining the role the organism once played in society is complex and archaeologists have become increasingly more accurate with their ability to determine this information from bones. 











Archaeological Institute of America, 2015: https://www.archaeology.org/issues/181-features/horses  

William Taylor, 2020: https://www.sapiens.org/archaeology/horse-domestication-archaeology/ 


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