When you look at your furry feline friend, you know that all cats look alike but yours is special because of their breed, temperament, and general affection towards you. The idea that all cats look the same in the 21st century makes sense, but going back several thousand years this may not be the case at all. We will take a brief look at a few of those Egyptian cats and see why they may in fact have looked very different than you tabby friend.
From an evolutionary perspective, there is a definite similarity between the appearance of the domesticated cat, the cheetah, the lion, and the puma. You don’t need to have a degree in Evolutionary Biology to see that there are similarities that would suggest the different animals have a common ancestry. But if your cat evolved (downward?) from the big cats, then it is also likely that the domestic cats of 2,000 and more years ago looked differently than those of today.
Now when you look at those Egyptian statues of cats, they look an awful lot like the one who is staring at you now. They may have the same attitude because back in those ancient times cats were considered to be gods. (If you have any doubts about this it is suggested you watch The Mummy with star Brandon Frazier.) It would make sense that the cats would be treated like gold, both in the art of the time and in their preservation for history.
One argument for cats looking different from Egypt’s history is a simple matter of technology. There are many artifacts, paintings, and other archaeological findings that have been lost or significantly corrupted because the materials used to record history either disintegrated or are so badly worn any useful information is gone. So the durable materials such as stone, metal, and wood, survived over the centuries and provide our basis for what we know about cats – and everything else.
Though it is not recommended to do to your cat, back in Egypt cats were mummified as an act of homage. So there is some preserved evidence that there are definite characteristics that your cat and the Pharaoh’s cat have in common. But this mummification resulted in cats being generally perceived as being black in color due to the way their remains were stored – in leaded bronze statues. As it turns out, this is a perception and assumption made by both regular people and scientists, but there is other evidence to suggest otherwise.
That evidence is painted on the walls of Egyptian tombs, which show the cat as having a tabby coat, an appearance that is far more common even today. Though it is not necessary to go into the history of Egyptian paintings here, there is clearly evidence of at least two types of cats roaming around Egypt that were worth preserving.
But the homage paid to the cat shows they may have been more fearsome and had a slightly different head. One painting shows a kitty eating the expected fish while laying under a table. But another part of the painting shows them cutting the head off of a serpent with a blade. Of course, this may be a depiction of their god-like powers or it may represent that the cats of the time were physically different in ways that could not be easily drawn on a cave wall.
There is some more scientific evidence in the form of DNA that suggests the tabby cat was the more common breed in ancient Egypt. The evidence showed that it was not until the 18th century that the black cat appeared as a regular coloring for domesticated cats. Further evidence compiled from other countries and cultures support this conclusion, so if you have a tabby cat you probably have a living piece of Egyptian culture wandering around your home.
The Egyptian culture goes back thousands of years, and since we know the tabby cat was around we can safely conclude their attitude is the result of them being treated far better than royalty. That sitting in the window pose where they are apparently staring out into nothing might just be a message to us lesser creatures that they know where their roots are. How about you?