The cat's role in society has seen dramatic change throughout history from fierce goddess to female nurturer, pest control to protector of the underworld, and (of course) that of the beloved domestic companion and occasional household ruler.
The relationship between humans and felines may have begun as early as over 12,000 years ago. According to a 2007 published study, cats may have first been domesticated when humans used them to eradicate mice from their grain stores. Amusingly enough one author of the study pondered the idea that cats “domesticated themselves” after delighting in the vast supply of prey eventually becoming the docile and clever creatures we know today.
This view of the cat as a sophisticated and even sacred animal comes to us from one of history’s oldest accounts of the species: Ancient Egypt.
The National Geographic Museum and The British Museum are among those institutions that preserve several cat related artefacts including statues and tomb paintings recovered from Ancient Egyptian burial sites. From as far back as third millennium BC it was once a common funerary practice to include not only artefacts but the mummified remains of cats in Egyptian tombs.
The cat itself was revered by the Ancient Egyptians, as reflected in their worship of cat-like deities. The most well know of these being the cat goddess, Bastet—a goddess associated with love, motherhood, and protection—who was honoured with the entire city of Bubastis. Located in the eastern Nile Delta the city contained an impressive Bastet temple while the city itself was considered sacred by Bastet's followers. Mummified cats were sought after commodities by such followers – often used by the Bastet cults as sacrifices to honour the goddess.
Despite banning the exporting of cats the Egyptians' sacred and favoured animal was smuggled out of the country and has gone on to become one of the most popular domestic animals of the day. The ancient belief in the cat's superiority is echoed in modern domestic equivalents from the internet cat videos of cat versus dog to home decor pieces carved or stitched with witty quips such as, “dogs have masters; cats have servants”. Interestingly enough even the Ancient Egyptians often kept their sacred animal as a beloved pet. The discovery of a pet cemetery in Egypt—complete with over 80 cat skeletons maintained and buried with wealth and obvious affection—shows that the cat is an animal who was always meant to be showered with love, respect, and care.