How Long Have Cats Been Domesticated?

long-cats-domesticated Credit: Brandon Shea/CC-BY-2.0

Cats have been a domesticated human companion since the reign of the Ancient Egyptians more than 4,000 years ago, according to National Geographic. While these ancient people may or may not have been the first to domesticate the cat, they were the first to show widespread evidence of human interactions with cats thanks to the wide variety of art and artifacts indicating this culture's reverence for the cat, including mummified cats that were prepared for the afterlife in much the same way as humans, as well as the presence of snacks in the form of mummified mice. However, because the archeological record is not necessarily reliable due to the physical similarity of domestic and wild cat skeletons, it is difficult to know exactly when cats were domesticated, with some estimates ranging as far back as 12,000 years ago.

Some theorists posit that wild cats began to essentially domesticate themselves by gravitating toward human settlement as a source of food. The earliest human civilizations mark the first historical instance of humans storing grain, seeds and other goods that attract vermin such as rodents. Cats may have naturally gravitated toward these food-rich areas, and because they kept the pests away, humans may have been open to keeping cats around.