We know cats date back millennia and they even domesticated themselves. But we’re willing to be that most people assume the oldest known pet cat comes from Egypt. However, archaeological evidence suggests that the oldest known pet cats may come from the island of Cyprus.
In Egypt, cats were worshipped as idols as well as cherished as pets and pest control specialists. For centuries, we’ve assumed that Egyptians were the first to keep cats as pets. But a team of French archaeologists working in the island country of Cyprus has turned the feline companion timeline on its head.
What’s the evidence? Well, the best proof we have that cats were kept as pets rather than simply furry, mouse-hunting neighbors are cat burial sites. People bury their pets – they don’t bury wildlife.
The oldest pet grave we now have is a 9,500-year-old site on Cyprus in the Neolithic village of Shillourokambos. The presumably beloved kitty was buried with seashells, polished stones, and other decorative items.
According to National Geographic (cited below), this “predates early Egyptian art depicting cats by 4,000 years or more.”
The oldest known pet cat
The details of the grave suggest that the feline resting inside is the world’s oldest known pet cat. Of course, there could be gravesites elsewhere in the world that will rewrite the timeline again.
According to Melinder Zeder, a curator of Old World archaeology at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and president of the International Council for Archaeozoology, “The process and timing of cat domestication has been terrifically difficult to document.”
“In the absence of a collar around its neck, the deliberate interment of this animal with a human makes a strong case that cats had a special place in the daily lives, and in the afterlives, of residents of Shillourokambos,” Zeder told NatGeo.
The rest of our earliest evidence for cat domestication comes from ancient Egypt, but the oldest cat mummies date back a “mere” 4000 years.
Researchers have long been confident that felines domesticated themselves much earlier, but the Cyprus site is the first solid proof. We already knew cats were present on the island (and therefore valued in some way since someone had to bring them there) because archaeologists found bones. But a grave site suggests something quite different and more significant in terms of what cats meant to people.
“The first discovery of cat bones on Cyprus showed that human beings brought cats from the mainland to the islands. But we couldn’t decide if these cats were wild or tame,” said a study author. “With this discovery, we can now decide that cats were linked with humans.” — WTF fun facts