History Podcasts

Silk Road Cat Pushes Back Central Asia Domestication to 8th-century AD

Silk Road Cat Pushes Back Central Asia Domestication to 8th-century AD

Archaeologists have found the well-preserved remains of a Silk Road cat buried in Kazakhstan that likely dates from the 8th century AD, and the evidence suggests this was a “well-loved pet cat.” In a new paper published in the journal Scientific Reports by Dr. Ashleigh Haruda from the Central Natural Science Collections at Germany’s Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, she provides compelling evidence about the life of this ancient Silk Road cat, a male, which was fed by the people it lived near and “nursed back to health by his nomadic cattle-herding owners after getting injured.”

Today, an estimated 600 million cats share homes with their human servants and a 2007 report stated that about 37 million US households owned cats, with an average of 2.2 cats per household for a total US cat population of around 82 million. For comparison, there are about 72 million pet dogs in the USA.

But among the billions of cats who lived and died through history, this recently discovered Silk Road cat stands out as an important domesticated feline breakthrough. The discovered ancient cat’s skeleton was well preserved and for that reason, the university researchers were able to gather considerable evidence to prove the cat had a “high-protein diet and was well-cared for” and that cats were likely first domesticated in Central Asia much earlier than previously thought.

The cat's remains were found during an excavation in the settlement of Dhzankent in Kazakhstan. (Ashleigh Haruda / MLU)

How the Silk Road Cat Changes Central Asian Pet History

The Silk Road cat’s remains were found at an excavation in Dzhankent, a medieval settlement in the south of Kazakhstan which was historically populated by the hardy Oghuz people , a pastoralist Turkic tribe . The cat’s skeleton was recovered from a remote location and is described as an “anomaly in archaeology” because when animals die, normally only a few bones are discovered around the carcass, the rest destroyed by scavengers and long-term exposure to the elements.

The new paper says the practice of keeping cats as pets in Central Asia dates back further than previously thought. Based on evidence from this ancient Silk Road culture, domestic cats were kept as pets by nomadic livestock herders more than 1,000 years ago. The Silk Road cat skeleton included its lower jaw, parts of its upper body, all four legs and four vertebrae. And based on the analysis of these bones the researchers were able to confidently claim the cat was “well cared for.”

The Snow Leopard is the national animal of Kazakhstan where the Silk Road cat was found (The National Bank of Kazakhstan / )

The paper claims this particular ancient cat, which dined on a diet rich in protein indicating it had been regularly fed by humans, provides “the earliest evidence” of a domesticated cat in Central Asia, a region thought to have been slow in making changes with respect to agriculture and animal husbandry .

  • The Eagle Huntress: New Generations of Eagle Huntresses in Kazakhstan and Mongolia – Part II
  • From Food to Friend: Prehistoric Exotic and Pampered Pets
  • Study sheds new light on the origins of dogs

Bone and Protein Analysis Confirms That This Cat Was Special

Using 3D scans and X-ray analysis, the study showed how the cat had suffered broken bones that healed, indicating it had been cared for and nursed by people, despite the creature serving no practical use to the nomadic people who kept it. Moreover, it was intentionally put in the ground and buried rather than discarded. And according to a report in the Daily Mail this particular aspect of the discovery “surprised” the researchers who thought it remarkable to find cats being kept as pets around the 8th century AD. Until now it had been assumed cats were domesticated at a much later date in Central Asia.

At a molecular level, isotope analyses provided information about the cat's diet. When the cat’s results were compared to the remains of dogs at the same site it was clear that the cat ‘s diet was “very high in protein.” This, said Dr. Harud, means the cat must have been fed by humans, which is also evident in that the cat lost almost all its teeth towards the end of its life but was still fed.

DNA analyses also revealed that the Silk-Road cat was of the Felis catus L. species and not a member of the closely related wild steppe cat. Dr Haruda said the Oghuz were people who “only kept animals when they were essential to their lives.” However, because this cat had no obvious practical use, the scientists concluded that people at the time “kept and cared for such exotic animals” and determined this find marks a significant cultural change that occurred much earlier in Central Asia than previously thought.

What Was Traded on China's Silk Road and Why

China traded with south, west, and central Asia, Europe, and North Africa through the Silk Road. As the name implies, silk was the most representative of the goods traded on the Silk Road.

In addition to the silk, China’s porcelain, tea, paper, and bronze products, India’s fabrics, spices, semi-precious stones, dyes, and ivory, Central Asia’s cotton, woolen goods, and rice, and Europe’s furs, cattle, and honey were traded on the Silk Road.

The Silk Road also contributed to the first upsurge of cultural exchanges between China and the West.

Discover the products and items that made the Silk Road the world's most important ancient trade route in this article. If you are interested in traveling the Silk Road, contact us to book a trip.

Game On! Opening Up a Whole New World of Research

Dating to the early mid-Holocene, the child was “ritually buried” and this offers important insights into ancient burial practices, about which so little is currently known. An article on PHYS quotes the lead researcher Dr. Sofia Samper Carro as saying that the child was between four and eight years old when it was laid to rest “ with some kind of ceremony.”

The evidence for “ritual” was threefold: the child’s arm and leg bones were removed before interment, red ochre pigment was discovered on the child’s face, and an ochre-colored cobble stone was discovered beneath its head. With such a rare discovery, dating back 8,000 years, it’s now “game on,” because an entirely new field of research has opened up.

The child remains discovered at Makpan Cave on Alor Island in Indonesia included a fragmented mandible and cranial vault. (Tahlia Stewart / ANU)

Emperor Xuanzong

Empress Wu’s grandson, Emperor Xuanzong, is renowned for the cultural heights reached during his rule from 712 to 756 A.D. He welcomed Buddhist and Taoist clerics to his court, including teachers of Tantric Buddhism, a recent form of the religion.

Xuanzong had a passion for music and horses. To this end he owned a troupe of dancing horses and invited renowned horse painter Han Gan into his court. He also created the Imperial Music Academy, taking advantage of the new international influence on Chinese music.

The fall of Xuanzong became an enduring love story in China. Xuanzong fell so much in love with concubine Yang Guifei that he began to ignore his royal duties and also promote her family members to high government positions.

Sensing the emperor’s weakness, northern province warlord An Lushan mounted a rebellion and occupied the capital in 755 A.D., forcing Xuanzong to flee.

The royal army refused to defend Xuanzong unless Yang Guifei’s family was executed. Xuanzong complied, but the soldiers demanded Yang Guifei’s death as well. Xuanzong eventually complied, and ordered her strangled.

Lushan himself was later killed, and Xuanzong abdicated the throne to his son. The An Lushan Rebellion severely weakened the Tang Dynasty and eventually cost it much of its western territory.

Cat Chronology

This is the timeline I built for my own use, from a number of sources, to better understand the sequence of known events in domestic cat history. I thought you might be interested in it, even though it’s very informal and incomplete. (The fully formatted version is in each of my eBooks on the domestic cat.)

Researchers say that little evidence of early domestic cats exists, so I looked into some human history, too, including the occasional military defeat for Egypt and some influential trade routes that probably carried cats out into the world. (I ignored the Phoenicians–a major Eastern Mediterranean trading power–simply because I could find no link whatsoever between them and cats, but they also might have smuggled or carried legal feline cargo at some point.)

Letters or names in parentheses at the end of an entry refer to the source list at the bottom of this timeline.

8th Millennium BC (10,000 years ago):

Libya: Circa 8000 BC, Neolithic people carve into a rock at Wadi Mathendous the image of what look to me exactly like two wildcats fighting (though many people interpret them as monkeys).

Cyprus: Around 7500 BC, a young cat is ritually buried close to a human grave. Since cats, like the livestock these people brought with them, are not native to this island–and there seems to be no reason for anyone to take wildcats on a sea voyage–this respectful burial is often accepted by experts as the earliest known evidence of cat domestication. (Vigne) (Without artwork or other signs of human intention, it’s next to impossible for archaeologists to decide which animal remains in a human setting are there from prey/food, animals taken for pelts, or from pets.)

Nile River Valley: The Naqada I culture lived here around 4500 BC. (T)

Egypt: 4221 BC: Possible base year of the Egyptian calendar. (T)

At Mostagedda, circa 4000 BC, a cat is buried with a human and a gazelle. (S)

Egypt: Around 3700 BC cats–presumably either domesticated or tamed–are buried in an elite human cemetery. (V)

Around 3100 BC, predynastic kings unify Egypt. (T)

From roughly 2600 to 2550 BC, Fourth-Dynasty rulers build the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx. (T)

Egypt: Domestic cats appear more frequently in art, showing that the human-cat bond is growing stronger. (O)

Around 1500 BC: An early cat meme–a cat sitting under a woman’s chair–shows up in multiple tomb paintings. (T)

10th Century BC (3,000 years ago):

Egypt: The cult of Bastet becomes more important and cats are associated with the goddess. (S)

China: King Wu, of West Chou, is allegedly the first traveler on what will become the Silk Road. He gets as far as what is now Iran. (H) (I have no idea who this person was, but the Silk Road would become a major highway for cat traders.)

Egypt: In 715 BC, Ethiopia conquers Egypt. (T)

According to a genetic study, Egyptian cats begin spreading through the Eastern Mediterranean region in the 8th century. (O) (Egypt’s geopolitical problems at the time may have had something to do with it.)

Rome: 753 BC: Traditional date for the city’s founding. (A)

Egypt: The traditional practice of offering mummified cats to the goddess Bast now becomes very popular. (K)

671 BC: Assyrians conquer Egypt. (T)

Persia: Cyrus the Great comes to power in 550 BC. He will build the 1700-mile-long Persian Royal Road (later a major part of the Silk Road) that helps establish Sardis, on the Aegean, as an important east-west trading center. (F) (At the southern end of the Persian Royal Road, a trader with smuggled Egyptian cats from the Eastern Mediterranean could sail down a river to the Persian Gulf and trade these elite status symbols for goods in India, Arabia, and even the east coast of Africa.)

Cyrus also liberates the Israelites from Babylonian captivity–domestic cats are not mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures or the Christian Old Testament. (G, TWF)

Egypt: 525 BC: In the Battle of Pelusium, cat imagery and actual cats are used in psychological warfare against Egyptian soldiers. The Persians win and will dominate Egypt until 332 BC, when Alexander the Great moves in. (A, T)

Rome: 509 BC: The city-state becomes a republic. This Roman Republic will last until 44 BC, when Julius Caesar is murdered. (MET)

Greece: The port of Piraeus near Athens is bustling. A 480 BC marble sculpture shows a leashed cat confronting a dog. (A, S)

Italy: Greeks introduce cats to southern Italy, where they become popular exotic pets, showing up in Etruscan art, pottery, and sculpture. (LAV, S) (We know very little about the Etruscans, who were eventually conquered by Rome.)

India: Gotama Buddha passes away in 480 BC, according to some reckonings. (B) (No one knows the history of cats in India, but this is relevant because Buddha’s followers one day will write down his teachings on materials prone to rodent damage they presumably will also use cats–which eventually become temple cats–to protect these sacred texts, bringing the kitties along as Buddhist missionaries travel north and east into Asia.)

Egypt: In 332 BC, Alexander takes over Egypt without resistance, founding the Ptolemaic dynasty of pharaohs that ends in 30 BC with Cleopatra.

Along the way, Egypt’s Ptolemies will build a temple to Bastet in Alexandria, as well as reopen an old canal and overland road to the Red Sea and the port of Berenike. This trade route will become part of the Maritime Silk Road during the Roman Empire. (BBC, C, CHW, T)

China: At some point before 200 BC, at least one domestic cat–a mackerel tabby–arrived here, for archaeologists have found its remains. (S)

India: King Asoka (269-237 BC) converts to Buddhism and sends out missionaries to northwest India (what are now Pakistan and Afghanistan). They probably get there via the Uttara Path, which predates the Buddha and runs for some 1600 miles from the mouth of the Ganges to the northwest boundary of the King’s empire. Later it will be called the Grand Trunk Road–a major artery of the Silk Road.

Monks also go to Sri Lanka and across Southeast Asia. Monks and nuns depend completely on the laity for support, in return offering education and a chance for laypeople to earn merit in the next world. Caravan traders and businessmen are the best patrons of any sizable monastic group. (B, H, W) (And, either intentionally or accidentally, cats are likely to be among the goods and materials exchanged between these two very different groups of people.)

Roman Republic: By roughly 280 BC, Rome dominates central Italy and is on its way to become a major regional power. (A)

China: Many merchants along Central Asia’s caravan routes convert to Buddhism, which also becomes popular in cities like Kotan, where the first contacts with the Chinese happen. (B) (All along the way, cats are probably multiplying and establishing themselves in human settlements.)

In 200 BC, the new Han dynasty makes peace with the nomadic Xiongu of central Asia, against whom earlier Chinese emperors had built the Great Wall. This agreement boosts east-west caravan trade. Then General Zhang Qian heads west to establish military alliances. By formalizing trade, especially silk, with Persia, he gets credit for opening up the Silk Road all the way from the Mediterranean to China. (H)

China: 45 BC: Cat remains this old have been found in the tomb of Guangyangqing King, Beijing. (Vigne)

Roman Republic: 55-54 BC: Julius Caesar first enters Britain. In 44 BC, he is murdered in Rome. (A)

30 BC: Anthony and Cleopatra kill themselves after Alexandria falls to Roman forces. Egypt is now a province and will go on to be the “breadbasket of Rome.” In 27 BC, after some political maneuvering, Caesar’s heir Octavian becomes the Emperor Augustus and the Roman Empire begins. Roman soldiers like Egyptian cats so much that they adopt them as mascots, name military units after cats, and paint feline emblems on their shields. (A, LAV)

Why 1571? Simply because the last oar-rowed galleys were used in a battle that year. (Wik) It has nothing to do with cats but is a significant point in the history of ships–and, as Neil Todd says, “[W]hat are water barriers to most animals become veritable highways to cats.”

Southern Asia: Around 100 BC, Buddhist monks write down the Pali canon on bark, palm leaves, and other fragile material. These texts will travel with missionaries both north into China and south across the Eastern Asian mainland and some islands. (B) (And the tradition of temple cats to protect the scrolls from rodent damage presumably begins.)

6 to 4 BC: Jesus is born probably somewhere during this interval. (Wik)

Roman Empire: 1 AD: Silk is seen for the first time in Rome. By the third quarter of the 1st century, Roman merchants are in parts of Asia while Chinese traders under the Han Dynasty expand westward into Central Asia. (C)

9 AD: Domestic cats are across the Alps, heading north and west with Roman legions. (O)

26-37 AD: According to some reckonings, the crucifixion of Jesus happens somewhere in this interval. (Wik)

43 AD: The Roman conquest of Britain. (A)

79 AD: Vesuvius buries Pompeii in volcanic debris, preserving much of the city, including exquisite murals in the House of the Faun, one of which shows a cat stealing its dinner from a platter of game. (LAV, W) (Despite some rumors, I have found no reliable mention of cats found among the victims of this eruption, though it did kill at least one tethered dog.)

China: 58-76 AD: Emperor Ming-Ti has cats imported from India for the Temple of the White Horse, where the first Chinese sutta translations are stored. (DelRW)

Roman Empire: The Roman Empire is now a huge market for Eastern goods. The road doesn’t just run east-west, either. In 166 AD, for example, Rome sends an envoy by sea to China, and Roman and Han merchants trade goods on the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). (C, LAV)

At some point during the 1st or 2nd century, a little DNA from Central Asian steppe wildcats–Felis silvestris ornata–gets into one cat lineage at the Red Sea port of Berinike on the Maritime Silk Road. (O)

During the empire’s peak, cats are extremely popular. Roman women are called “kittens,” while children are named after cats. (LAV)

China: The Han Dynasty falls. China breaks up and barbarians attack the former empire. (C) (Genetic studies show that groups of Asian cats were isolated from each other, probably partly because of such dynastic and social upheavals. [L])

Roman Empire: Cats are common enough for Palladium to recommend using a cattus for pest control. Back then, felis referred to any mouser–polecats, martens, and ferrets, as well as cats. (LAV, TWF)

330 AD: With thousands of miles of imperial border to defend, and raiders pushing in from the north and west, Emperor Constantine decides to move east, establishing the new Roman imperial capital at Byzantium. (A, C) (This city, renamed Constantinople in the emperor’s honor, is now cat-friendly Istanbul.)

The Three Kingdoms of Korea: 372 AD: Buddhism and, presumably, cats reach this region from China. (B)

Domestic cats become more common in Europe and Southwest Asia. (O)

Roman Empire: 410 AD: Rome is sacked. The last Roman legions leave Britain. (A)

476 AD: The widely accepted date for the fall of the western Roman Empire. The eastern half is going strong. (A) (Constantinople is now the western terminal of the Silk Road much trade, and probably a lot of cats, will pass through it–north and south, as well as east-west–for centuries until it finally falls and Muslims move in, bringing with them a strong love of cats.)

Japan/The Three Kingdoms of Korea: 538 AD: The King of Baekje sends Buddhist scrolls and other objects (presumably including cats to protect the scrolls) to Japan. The Japanese practice Shintoism, so this gift is controversial but eventually accepted with the help of an influential Japanese clan. Forty years or so later, Buddhism becomes the official religion. (B)

The Arab world: 610 AD: Muhammad has his revelations. (Wik)

The Arab Age of Discovery (7th to 13th century) begins. The Islamic maritime trading network links parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe. (Wik) (There is no word on the presence of cats, but given their popularity in the Islamic world since the days of Muhammad, and the recognized usefulness of ship cats, they probably were aboard these commercial ships, continuing their spread across the known world.)

China: During the T’ang Dynasty (7th to early 10th centuries) cats–many of them longhairs brought in by Persian traders–first appear as pets. (DelRW)

Europe: Cats inhabit the Baltic Sea port of Ralswiek. (O) (This whole region will soon belong to Vikings.)

Europe: Ship cats are now mandatory in Medieval Europe. (O)

Towards the end of this century, the first artificial canal connecting two rivers is begun (history’s verdict is still out on whether it worked). (Wik) (Canals are very cat relevant. A study tracking cat fur color [Todd] shows a link with the Seine and Rhône river valleys, which used to be connected by a complex canal system going back at least to the 17th century. Todd found that solid colors and the blotched tabby pattern seem to have spread along this route.)

The beautiful artwork of the Lindisfarne Gospels (710 AD) and the Book of Kells (800 AD) includes cats. (LAV)

785 AD: The Council of Padeborn outlaws condemning people as witches. Burning a witch is a capital crime. (Wik)

China: The T’ang Dynasty declines, and with it, the Silk Road. (C)

The Arab world: The Islamic Empire is at its peak, stretching from Spain in the west to India’s Indus River in the east. (Wik) (Islam is very cat-friendly.)

China: Lu Yu dedicates a poem to the cats protecting his library and tea collection. (DelRW)

Europe: A domestic cat lineage develops in the Balkans. (O)

Vikings appear in the East Slavic confederation called Rus. Their origins are controversial, but they may have actually been an assortment of people that lived between roughly 750 and 1066 AD. (VAL) In Eastern Europe, these nomadic warrior-traders, known as Varangians, had an 1800-mile-long (3000 km) river route from the Baltic Sea near modern Stockholm to Constantinople. (IEU) (Relevant because the orange cat mutation developed in Asia Minor, as did the dominant-white fur mutation. These colors apparently pleased Vikings, because cats with orange or orange/white fur are more common in lands associated with Vikings, including northern and western Scotland, the Faroe Islands, and perhaps as far as Iceland. [Todd])

In France, Louis the Pious outlaws sorcerers and necromancers, but in 829 AD the Council of Paris asks that secular courts try such people since the Church is more concerned about heresy. (Wik)

In southern Germany, an Irish monk who was driven out of his homeland by Viking raids writes a poem to his cat:

Pangur, white Pangur, How happy we are
Alone together, scholar and cat
Each has his own work to do daily
For you it is hunting, for me study.
Your shining eye watches the wall
My feeble eye is fixed on a book.
You rejoice, when your claws entrap a mouse
I rejoice when my mind fathoms a problem.
Pleased with his own art, neither hinders the other
Thus we live ever without tedium and envy.

— https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pangur_Bán

Domestic cats are now widespread in Europe and Asia. (S)

Europe: Around 900 AD, official Christian doctrine, per the Canon Episcopi, is that witchcraft doesn’t exist. However, secular laws often do condemn “witch-crafts.” (Wik)

China: The Sung Dynasty reunites China. (C)

Japan: 999 AD: Emperor Ichijō is given a cat to celebrate his 13th year of rule. (Wik-Es)

Europe: 1099 AD: The Knights Hospitaller receive papal backing. (Wik) (There were other medieval orders, including the Knights Templar, but I chose to include this one because they were based on Malta for a while. Many histories of the Chartreux and other blue [gray] fancy-cats say that “Crusaders” brought the original founders out of the Holy Land.)

China: Around 1100 AD, long-haired cats are popular with aristocratic ladies. Sung Dynasty artists produce exquisite cat paintings. (DelRW)

China: The Mongol ruler Kublai Khan conquers China and establishes the Yuan dynasty and the “Pax Mongolica.” The Silk Road flourishes and a third westward trade network, called the Northern or Steppe Route, is established. (C)

Europe: 1211 AD: Cats are starting to appear in witch denunciations. (S)

1258 AD: Pope Alexander IV says that witchcraft is not to be investigated by the church. (Wik)

The Arab world: 1260 AD: In Egypt, Sultan Baibars begins his rule. He will establish a cat garden in a Cairo mosque where the kitties can get daily food and water between the hours of noon and sunset. It’s still in operation today!

From the 13th to late 17th centuries, the Somali Ajuran and other Islamic sultanates and republics on the Horn of Africa dominate Indian Ocean maritime trade, with thriving commercial connections to Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, East Africa, India, and most of Asia, including possibly China. (Wik)

Eurasia: The Black Death (plague) pandemic starts in China, spreads along trade routes to Constantinople and then to Europe, where it kills an estimated 60% of the population. (CDC) (Many think that cat persecution during the witchcraft hysteria worsened the plague by increasing the number of rats that supposedly carried plague-bearing fleas, but as Walter Andrews points out at https://faculty.washington.edu/walter/Killing Cats3.html#_edn3, this doesn’t take into account the fact that cats have fleas, too, and they spend much more time around people than rodents do. And a 2018 study at http://www.pnas.org/content/115/6/1304 suggests that humans, not rats, may have been plague carriers!)

1324 AD: The date of what some consider the first witch trial, that of Alice Kyteler in Ireland. (Wik)

1326 AD: Pope John XXII okays the inquisition and prosecution of witchcraft as a heresy (but see 1484 AD “Witch-Bull” below). (Wik)

Siam/Thailand: Theravadan Buddhism has been in the region since King Asoka sent missionaries through southern Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaya in the 3rd century BC, but it reaches the capital Ayudhaya from Ceylon/Sri Lanka in the 1300s. (B) Here, at some point between now and when the city falls to the Burmese in the 1700s, artists make several copies of a book of poems and paintings of local cat types–the oldest known record of several natural Asian fancy-breeds, including but not limited to what are known in the West as the Siamese and Korat.

China: Rulers forbid entry to foreign visitors. Europe’s aristocrats must now get their silk from Lyon, in France. (C) (Perhaps relevant because Victorian-era will also get most of their aristocratic white longhaired cats–what we call Angoras and Persians–from France.)

Roman Empire: In 1453 AD, the empire vanishes forever, along with parts of the Silk Road, when Constantinople falls to the Turks. (C)

Europe: 1402 AD: The Spanish Empire begins with an invasion of the Canary Islands.

1415 AD: The Portuguese empire begins with the capture of Ceuta, a key port in northwest Africa.

1428 AD: Witch trials are held in the Western Alps and persecution spreads in parts of France and Switzerland. (Wik)

1478 AD: The Spanish Inquisition begins. (Wik)

1484 AD: Pope Innocent VIII issues the “Witch-Bull,” recognizing the existence of witches and giving the Inquisition full authority to deal with them. (Wik)

The European Age of Discovery begins, running from the 15th through the 17th centuries. First the Portuguese and then the Spanish set off on long-distance voyages. (Wik) (All in accordance with the ship cats’ plan for world domination!)

The Americas: 1492 AD: Columbus reaches the New World. (Wik) (Of note, wildcats are not native to these continents domestic cats could only get here by accompanying explorers and immigrants.)

1497 AD: Cabot explores part of eastern North America. (Wik)

Persia: 1501 AD: The Safavids revive Persia/Iran as an economic power in between East and West. The southern Silk Road becomes active again, but the Persians also enjoy direct maritime trade with Europe, especially England and the Netherlands, where business is brisk in silk and textiles as well as Persian carpets. (Wik) (No mention of cats yet, but perhaps some longhairs from Persia and Angora–modern Ankara–were included as cargo.)

The Americas: 1514 AD: Diego de Almagro arrives in Panama. Just before he leaves Panama for his conquest of Chile in 1535, he will give “one Montenegro, who presented him with the first Spanish cat that ever came to the Indias,” 600 pieces of eight. (Ovalle) (Some say this was a purchase, but in context it looks like a gift. Almagro apparently really liked the cat!)

It is very difficult to track down the domestic cat’s history in Latin America. (P) One genetic study suggests that cats arrived at different times, from different backgrounds. (R) Lozano notes that dogs and cats were not native to the New World and they went feral after arriving here.

1534 AD: The explorer Cartier claims part of eastern North America for France. (Wik)

Europe: 1521 AD: Longhaired cats are first documented in Europe.

1533 AD: The French writer Montaigne is born. In his 1595 book of essays, he will write of an experience that all cat lovers have shared:

When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me. We entertain each other with reciprocal monkey tricks. If I have my time to begin or to refuse, so has she hers.

Witch hunts become more common in Europe. (Wik)

1542 AD: England’s Parliament passes the first Witchcraft Act, making it a capital crime. (Wik)

1562 AD: On August 3rd, a freak snowstorm hits the city of Wiesensteig, Germany. The end result: 67 women executed for witchcraft. From this point, European witch hunts start kicking into high gear.

Asia: 1543 AD: The Portuguese make contact with Japan. During the 16th century, China’s Ming Dynasty will also do business with Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch traders. (Wik)

Russia: 1547 AD: Ivan IV is crowned Tsar. (Ivan the Terrible was certainly no friend of cats–understatement of the century!–but that has changed now. Dalia Research reported in 2017 that Russians own more cats than anyone else in the world.)

1571 AD: The age of great sailing ships begins.

From 1571 to the cat fancy

The Americas: 1578: No one knows exactly when domestic cats reached North America, but contemporary accounts describe 100 Spanish ships, 20-30 Basque whalers, about 150 French and Breton ships, and 50 English ships fishing the waters this year off the Newfoundland coast. (M&C) (There were probably many opportunities, and not just in 1578, for some cats to jump ship.)

Europe: 1580 to 1630 were the peak years for witch-hunts. Tens of thousands of people were executed, and no one knows how many cats suffered along with them.

But there were bright spots, too. In 1583, Saint Philip Neri reportedly left his cat in Rome when told by the pope to relocate to another monastery. Supported by the saint’s followers, she outlived her master and became one of the city’s most famous cats.

1588: The Spanish Armada is destroyed off the coast of England. (This event led to the Manx folk tale that the Isle of Man’s famous tailless cats arrived there by swimming from a wreck off Spanish Head. Unfortunately, evidence to back this up has not yet been found.)

1598: In England, cat lovers hold a cat show in Winchester. There isn’t a lot of documentation about this event, but some online sources claim that it was performance based, with live rodents released and cats awarded prizes for “best ratter” and “best mouser.” (Hartwell)

Australia: 1606: Europeans arrive. (They’re accompanied by ship cats–a type of carnivore never seen here before, thanks to this continent’s multi-million-year isolation. Some of these cats soon go feral, and native wildlife extinctions begin.)

Europe: Another bright spot, despite the witchcraft hysteria, Dutch painters show cats and people living together more or less peacefully.

In England, 1606 may be the year that Shakespeare’s Macbeth is first performed. One of the witches in that play calls her familiar spirit “grimalkin”–a cat.

Meanwhile, in the Tower of London, Trixie the cat keeps her friend Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of South Hampton, company.

1618-1648: The Thirty-Years war devastates Europe, killing some 8 million people are killed.

1624-1642: In France, famous cat lover Cardinal Richelieu centralizes his power.

1644-1647: While jury trials are suspended during England’s Civil War, witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins and his assistant John Stearne “discover” at least 300 witches, who are executed. Hopkins’ book The Discovery of Witches is quite popular both here and in the colonies.

Starting in 1650, witch-hunts start to decline in Europe. Though there are occasional flares of mob violence and lynchings, upper-class support for belief in witches is no longer present.

1658: Edward Topsell gives a detailed description of the domestic cat in The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents. (W&W)

1666: Samuel Pepys reports seeing a cat, on September 5, that survived the Great Fire of London by hiding in a chimney next to The Exchequer, which burned down. Pepys describes it as having lost all its fur but gives no further information on its injuries or chance of recovery.

1697: “Puss in Boots” is published as one of the Stories of Tales of Past Times with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose.

The Americas: 1692-1693: The Salem witch trials. The accused claims that a red cat and a black cat are among the spirits she has seen telling her to hurt people.

Europe: Around 1700, in England, Isaac Newton invents the cat flap so his pet kitty can enter and leave the house without letting in the weather.

1727: French writer François-Augustin de Paradis de Moncrif publishes the first book about cats, Les Chats, later called Histoire des Chats. He was ridiculed for this at the time, but the book is still in print today. (LAV)

1730: Also in France, workers riot and kill their owner’s cats. (LAV)

1745: Elizabeth of Russia orders cats to be installed for pest control in her palace–the Hermitage. (Cats are still on the job there today.)

Starting around 1750, popular support for kindness to animals increases.

1758: Sweden: Linnaeus publishes the first scientific description and categorization of the domestic cat.

Japan: 1798: The artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi is born. Cats will be one of his most popular themes, including paintings of cats arranged to spell out “catfish,” illustrating proverbs, and a homage to Hiroshige’s 󈬢 Stations of the Tokaido.”

Europe: 1805: The battle of Trafalgar ensures British dominance of the sea. (Relevant because a study by Todd shows that the blotched tabby pattern in domestic cats probably originated in Britain and then spread across the world along with British expansion.)

1805: Astronomer Joseph Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande adds a domestic cat to the sky when he formally announces, in his book Bibliographie Astronomique, the constellation Felis. Sadly, like many of Lalande’s other constellations, Felis is quickly forgotten.

1822: England’s Parliament passes the first animal abuse bill. (P)

1825: The Cat Duet–“meow” sung to a compilation of opera melodies–is first performed in Europe.

1840s to 1850s: “French cats,” preferably white ones, are very popular long-haired pets in Britain. (Weir)

1859: There may have been a cat show held in Dublin. (Hartwell)

1860s: Another French writer, Champfleury, publishes a cat book. His Les Chats gets a much better reception than Moncrif’s cat book did back in 1727.

The Americas: In New England, farmers show their beautiful long-haired cats during county fairs and exhibitions. The cats are known as either “Maine cats” or “coon cats” (from a legend that they come from a cat-raccoon ancestor). (Hartwell, Simpson)

Finally, in 1871, a cat show held in London’s Crystal Palace. It is considered to be the beginning of the cat fancy, which soon spreads to North America and then around the world.

Featured image: E. Galitckaia/Shutterstock

A = Ancient History Encyclopedia. https://www.ancient.eu Multiple posts, multiple authors. Last accessed in the fall of 2017.

B = Buddha Dharma Education Association/BuddhaNet.Net. Buddhist World, multiple articles, multiple authors. https://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhistworld/ Last accessed February 3, 2018.

C = Silk Road Seattle. n. d. University of Washington, Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities. https://depts.washington.edu/silkroad/exhibit/timeline.html Last accessed October 9, 2017.

CDC = Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2015. History of the Plague. https://www.cdc.gov/plague/history/index.html Last accessed February 17, 2018.

CHW = Charlesworth, M. P. 1926, Trade-routes and Commerce of the Roman Empire. Cambridge University Press. Ereader version of 2016 paperback, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=wh7iDAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover Last accessed February 3, 2018.

Capel, H. 1989. The history of science and the history of the scientific disciplines: Goals and branching of a research program in the history of geography. Geo Critica: English Parallel Series. http://www.ub.edu/geocrit/geo84.htm Last accessed February 25, 2018.

Cottingham, J. 1978. ‘A Brute to the Brutes?’: Descartes’ Treatment of Animals. Philosophy, 53(206): 551-559.

Crosby, A. W. n. d. The Columbian exchange. Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-now/columbian-exchange# Last accessed on February 24, 2018.

DelRW = Poemas del Río Wang. 2010. Chinese cats. http://riowang.blogspot.com/2010/05/chinese-cats.html Last accessed November 25, 2017.

F = R. N. Frye Cyrus the Great: King of Persia. Encyclopedia Britannica online. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Cyrus-the-Great Last accessed February 7, 2018.

G = Gershom, Y. 2014. The Jewish view of cats. rooster613.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-jewish-view-of-cats.html Last accessed February 7, 2014.

Gaur, A. S. Abhayan, G. S. and Joglekar, P. P. 2011. Excavations at Kanjetar and Kaj on the Saurashtra Coast, Gujarat. http://drs.nio.org/drs/handle/2264/4131 Last accessed February 5, 2018.

H = J. Hays, 2013. Facts and Details. factsanddetails.com/china/cat2/sub90/ Last accessed February 2018.

Hartwell, S. n. d. A history of cat shows in Britain. http://messybeast.com/showing.htm . Last accessed February 25, 2018.

IEU: Internet Encyclopedia of the Ukraine. Multiple pages. http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/default.asp Last accessed February 12, 2018.

J = Japan Buddhist Federation/Buddha Dharma Education Association. 2004. A Guide to Japanese Buddhism, Kōdō Matsunami, ed. https://www.buddhanet.net/nippon/nippon_preface.htm Last accessed February 3, 2018.

K = Kurushima, J. D. Ikram. S. Knudsen, J. Bielberg, E. and others. 2012. Cats of the pharaohs: Genetic comparison of Egyptian cat mummies to their feline contemporaries. Journal of Archaeological Science, 39(10): 3217-3223.

Kurushima, J. D. Lipinski, M. J. Gandolfi, B. Froenicke, J. C. Grahn, J. C. Grahn, R. A. and Lyons, L. A. 2012. Variation of cats under domestication: genetic assignment of domestic cats to breeds and worldwide random-bred populations. Animal Genetics, 44: 311-324.

L = Lipinski, M. J. Froenicke, L. Baysac, K. C. Billings, N. C. and others. 2008. The ascent of cat breeds: genetic evaluation of breeds and worldwide random bred populations. Genomics, 91(1):12-21.

LAV = L. A. Vocelle. The Great Cat website, various posts. http://www.thegreatcat.org Last accessed in the fall of 2017.

MET = The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History online. Multiple articles, multiple authors. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/

M&C = Marr, J. S. and Cathey, J. T. 2010. New hypothesis for cause of epidemic among native Americans, New England, 1616–1619. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 16(2): 281.

McIntosh, J. R. 2008. The Ancient Indus Valley: New Perspectives. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. Retrieved from Google Books preview https://preview.tinyurl.com/yaet25l6 on February 5, 2018.

Montaigne, M. (1987). An Apology for Raymond Sebond. Penguin UK. Retrieved from http://www.sophia-project.org/modern-philosophy.html . Last accessed February 25, 2018.

N = Norton, M. 2015. The chicken or the iegue: Human-animal relationships and the Columbian exchange. The American Historical Review, 120(1): 28-60.

O = Ottoni, C. Van Neer, W. De Cupere, B. Daligault, J. and others. 2017. The palaeogenetics of cat dispersal in the ancient world. Nature Ecology and Evolution, 1: 0139.

P&F = Preece, R., and Fraser, D. 2000. The status of animals in Biblical and Christian thought: a study in colliding values. Society and Animals, 8(3): 245-263.

S = Serpell, J. A. 2014. Domestication and history of the cat, in The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behaviour, eds, Turner, D. C., and Bateson, P. New York: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=m-NRAgAAQBAJ

Simpson, F. 1903. The Book of the Cat. London, Paris, New York, Melbourne: Cassell and Company, Limited.

T = Colorado State University Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands (CMML). Timeline of Egyptian History and Culture. https://www.cemml.colostate.edu/cultural/09476/egypt02-01enl.html Last accessed October 9, 2017.

Todd, N. B. 1977. Cats and Commerce. Scientific American, 237: 100-107.

TWF = Multiple chapters, The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behaviour, eds, Turner, D. C., and Bateson, P. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=m-NRAgAAQBAJ

V = Van Neer, W. Linseele, V. Friedman, R. and De Cupere, B. 2014. More evidence for cat taming at the Predynastic elite cemetery of Hierakonpolis (Upper Egypt). Journal of Archaeological Science, 45:103-111.

Vigne, J. D. Evin, A. Cucchi, T. Dai, L. and others. 2016. Earliest “domestic” cats in China identified as leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). PloS One, 11(1): e0147295.

VAL = Viking Answer Lady. n. d. A Timeline of Scandinavian History Centering Upon the Viking Age. http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/timeline.shtml Last accessed February 12, 2018.

W = Wikipedia. Multiple articles. https://en.wikipedia.org Last accessed February 7, 2018.

W&W = Wright, M., and Walters, S. 1980. The Book of the Cat. New York: Summit Books


During a research stay in Kazakhstan, the scientist examined the findings of an excavation in Dzhankent, a medieval settlement in the south of the country.

This region is harsh and was previously populated by the hardy Oghuz people, a pastoralist Turkic tribe.

It was in this remote location that the complete skeleton was found carefully buried, an anomaly in archaeology.

Normally, if an animal has died in the wild, a few bones are found as the carcass is ravaged by the weather or scavengers.

This preserved many bones of the male cat, including its lower jaw, parts of its upper body, legs and four vertebrae.

During a research stay in Kazakhstan, the scientist examined the findings of an excavation in Dzhankent, a medieval settlement in the south of the country

Animal bones found in Dzhankent, Kazakhstan (pictured), along what used to be the vast transcontinental trade route connecting the East and West, believe the feline was cared for

Hares were almost TAMED 5,000 years ago

Hares may have been domesticated almost 5,000 years ago in China, a study has discovered.

Evidence from 54 buried hares revealed they lived on a diet including crops grown by Neolithic farmers in a remote part of China on the Loess Plateau.

It is believed the hares may have developed spiritual or religious importance in the local culture and were therefore fed by the farmers.

Pengfei Sheng from Fudan University, who led the research, said: 'We find a pet-like human-hare relationship beyond the hunter and the hunted in the Neolithic China.'

With the help of an international team of archaeologists and ancient DNA specialists an examination of the tomcat's skeleton revealed astonishing details about its life.

A series of assessments, including 3D imaging and X-rays, were conducted to learn more about the cat's existence.

Dr Haruda said: 'This cat suffered a number of fractures, but survived.

'Isotope analyses of bone samples also provided information about the cat's diet. Compared to the dogs found during the excavation and to other cats from that time period, this tomcat's diet was very high in protein.

'It must have been fed by humans since the animal had lost almost all its teeth towards the end of its life.'

DNA analyses also proved that the animal was indeed likely to be a domestic cat of the Felis catus L. species and not a closely related wild steppe cat.

Haruda said: 'The Oghuz were people who only kept animals when they were essential to their lives.

'Dogs, for example, can watch over the herd. They had no obvious use for cats back then.

'The fact that people at the time kept and cared for such 'exotic' animals indicates a cultural change, which was thought to have occurred at a much later point in time in Central Asia.'

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods Supplementary References Supplementary Figures 1–5 Supplementary Tables 1–5

Supplementary Data 1,2

Data 1: List of all the ancient and modern samples analysed in this study. Data 2: List of samples successfully analysed in this study and detailed information about the samples, the dating, the genotyping procedures followed, the mtDNA haplotypes and the polymorphic states of the three nuclear markers investigated.

Supplementary Code

Cat aMPlex Torrent bioinformatic tools. A bash script and accessory fasta and gff files for data analysis of the aMPlex Torrent data.


โครงกระดูกของแมวจากเส้นทางสายไหมที่มีสภาพเกือบสมบูรณ์ชิ้นนี้ ถูกค้นพบในเมือง Dzhankent ตั้งอยู่ทางตอนใต้ของคาซัคสถาน ในอดีตมีชาวเติร์กเผ่าโอกูซ (Oghuz) อาศัยอยู่เป็นจำนวนมาก แต่ความสมบูรณ์ของมันทำให้นักโบราณคดีประหลาดใจไม่น้อย

เพราะชาวเผ่าโอกูซเป็นชนเผ่าเร่ร่อน จึงออกเดินทางบ่อย และสัตว์เลี้ยงที่พวกเขานำไปด้วยนั้น มักเป็นสัตว์ที่เอื้อประโยชน์ต่อการค้าทั้งสิ้น แต่ในกรณีของแมวนั้น กลับต่างออกไป

  • Photo Credit: British Library

เพราะแมวไม่ได้มีหน้าที่เหมือนสุนัขที่ชาวโอกูซเลี้ยงไว้เพื่อเฝ้าฝูงสัตว์ ดร. Haruda อธิบาย และกล่าวเสริมว่า พวกเขาอาจเกิดการแลกเปลี่ยนทางวัฒนธรรมขึ้นระหว่างทำการค้า

“เรารู้ว่าพวกเขา (ชาวเติร์กเผ่าโอกูซ) มักออกเดินทางอยู่เสมอ โดยมีฝูงแกะ แพะ วัว ควาย และม้า จำนวนมากออกเดินทางไปด้วย โดยสัตว์ทุกชนิดที่พวกเขาครอบครอง มีไว้เพื่อประโยชน์ทางการค้าทั้งสิ้น ซึ่งคล้ายกับวิถีชีวิตของผู้คนที่อาศัยอยู่ในเขตทุ่งหญ้าสเตปป์ ในช่วงเวลาหลายพันปีก่อนหน้านั้น” ดร. Haruda กล่าว


Within Sogdiana, the dominating religion was Mazdaism (Zoroatrism), but there is also evidence of people practicing Hinduism (including Shaivism), Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Manichaeism.

Outside Sogdiana, it seems to have been common for Sogdians to absorb various religious and traditional practices from their neighbors and combining it with Mazdaism. Evidence suggest a high degree of syncretism, where Sogdians adopted and adapted deities from other cultures to serve their own devotional needs.

During the 4th century AD, the Central Asian Buddhist Kumarajiva set ut a translation bureau that became very productive, translating approximately a hundred Buddhist works from various languages into Chinese. 52 of them have survived into our time and are included in the Buddhist canon.

Sui Emperor Wen-ti

Data from around 514 (which is before the start of the Sui dynasty in 581) show that at that point, there were roughly 2 million Buddhists living in China.

During the Sui dynasty (581-618) and Tang dynasty (618-907), Buddhism was widespread in China and the religion and its ceremonies had trickled down from the courts and learned centers to ordinary folks in various parts of the country. A lot of Buddhist monasteries had been established and marvelous temples had been erected.

Numerous Buddhist pilgrims and missionaries came to China from other parts of Asia, and China also sent pilgrims to India along the Silk Road. Some of the more notable among the Chinese pilgrims were Xuan-Zang and I-Tsing both active during the 7th century.

A notable setback for Buddhism in China took place in 845, when Chinese Buddhists were subjected to widespread presecution, with over 260,000 monks and nuns being defrocked and an estimated 4600 temples destroyed.

Watch the video: Terra X - 089 - Atlantis der Nordsee (January 2022).