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Matthew Alice:

I’ve been contemplating Doris, my cat, and trying to imagine who first got the idea to try to capture and tame a wild lion or tiger or whatever into a domestic friend. I’m sure you can make it clear.

— Jennifer and Doris, via email

Not sure anyone was ever motivated to domesticate a tiger. Doris’s ancestors were considerably smaller. Bigger than today’s average housecat, but not lion size. And by the way, I’d guess that most cat owners question whether they are actually domesticated anyway, given the average cat’s abundance of attitude and independence. Archaeologists opine that all our house tabbies descend from five species of wildcats from the Middle East and India. While big cats were shooed away from human settlements, smaller cats actually proved handy in their rat-catching abilities, so they were cautiously welcomed. It’s probably no coincidence that cats began hanging around human settlements at the same time humans began cultivating grains — grains attract rats, rats attract cats.

The oldest evidence of an individual cat associated with an individual human was a cozy burial site in Cyprus, with pet next to owner. The site is estimated to be from 9500 BC. The cat isn’t native to Cyprus, so by this time cats must have been moved from the Mideast to other areas around the Mediterranean. Again from burial site clues, it wasn’t long before cats took on god qualities. The Egyptians certainly idolized them. But of course there’s no record of how or when people went from encouraging small cats to patrol their grain stores, then their houses, to when somebody reached out cautiously to pat one on the head or when wild cats decided being petted was a good idea.

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