About 9,500 years ago, a cat sailed with some people to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. We know the cat did not get to Cyprus on its own, because what cat would swim or raft across 40-some miles of ocean? Answer: No cat would do that. I, Miss Cuddlywumps, certainly would not, though I would not turn my nose up at a nice Mediterranean cruise aboard a luxury vessel with feline amenities.
This cat of 9,500 years ago was a special cat and belonged to a person of special status. The cat kept the person’s home free of mice, and the person fed the cat and gave it little toys to play with. The person delighted in the cat’s playfulness and purring and appreciated its skill as a mouser. (I am making this part up a little bit, but I think it cannot be too far from the truth. Who doesn’t enjoy watching a cat play and hearing it purr? Who wouldn’t appreciate a mouse-free home?)
We know all of this (except the part I made up a little bit) because in 2001 some archaeologists working on Cyprus discovered the skeleton of a cat buried very near the skeleton of a person. The person’s grave contained polished stone, axes, ochre, and flint tools. These offerings tell us that the person had special social status. The cat had been deliberately buried just over a foot away from the person. It was larger than today’s typical housecat and was about eight months old when it died. (Possibly the cat had been killed so it could be buried with its person. I suppose it is unlikely that the person was killed so they could be buried with the cat, although that arrangement makes perfect sense to me.)
According to the authors of a Science article about the find,* this burial shows there were spiritual links between humans and cats even at this early stage in human-feline relations. This is not surprising at all, because we cats are nothing if not creatures of great spirit.
[She of Little Talent is in the corner muttering about how the cat found in the burial could be a descendent of cats that sailed to Cyprus and so it would not have made the voyage itself. Possible, but I think it is much more fun to imagine that this particular cat sailed to Cyprus as a kitten, so that is what I choose to imagine.]
* J.D. Vigne et al. “Early Taming of the Cat in Cyprus.” Science, 9 April 2004, p. 259.