Thanks to the Internet, cat iconography is
ubiquitous and inescapable. However, this is
just the continuation of an epic, millennia-
strong love affair between two (not so)
different species.
10 The First ‘Pet’ Cat
The unearthing of a 9,500-year-old cat at a
Neolithic burial site in Cyprus has quite
possibly pushed back the anthro-felinic
timeline by thousands of years. You see, cats
are not native to the region and must have
been brought there by ancient settlers.
It was first thought that humans
transmogrified wild cats to house cats around
4,000 years ago in Egypt. However, more
recent finds credit cat domestication to the
Chinese 1,000 years earlier. Since then, older
specimens have been found in Northern
Africa, but the nearly 10,000-year-old remains
unearthed at the Shillourokambos settlement
in Cyprus are a downright antediluvian
This Neolithic Nyan Cat was planted about a
0.3 meters (1 ft) away from its potential
human, a person of great importance, judging
by the intricate burial trinkets found within.
The duo’s grave was littered with a rare
assortment of items, including ornamental
shells and a small, ceremonial jade axe.
Why was the kitten entombed alongside a
human? Archaeologists aren’t sure, but the
eight-month-old mouser definitely wasn’t
butchered , strengthening the notion that the
cat commanded at least a moderate amount of
political sway.
9 Native American Ritual
Nobody knows when humans stopped seeing
cats as simple rat-killing machines and
adopted them as cuddly companions, but a
recent archaeological find has provided a
partial answer.
At a Native American burial mound in what is
now western Illinois, archaeologists have
unearthed a 2,000-year-old bobcat. We’ve
already talked about an even older cat, so why
is this one so special? For one, it’s a historical
one-off and the only recorded burial of a
bobcat across the entire annals of
archaeology. On top of that, it was placed in
the middle of 22 human carcasses. It was also
found with a fancy shell-and-bear-teeth collar
around its neck.
Sadly, we might never find out if the
Hopewell Native Americans really did try to
domesticate bobcats. The feline’s current
repository, the Illinois State Museum, is facing
financial distress and shutting down.
Hopefully, a miraculous cash infusion will
save the institution, because if the museum
closes, the bones will be made inaccessible by
heaps of bureaucratic stupidity.
8 Tokyo’s Cat Temple
The Japanese really, really love their cats. In
the 18th century, the maneki neko , little
white cat effigies with upraised paws, were
created to bring prosperity to shop owners
and noodle weavers alike. Just like China’s
opaque wall of smog, this endearing Japanese
character has gradually swept through
mainland Asia.
But when it comes to sheer numbers, no site
houses more maneki neko than the legendary
Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo’s Setagaya ward.
The temple itself is small and unassuming, its
facade giving no indication of the ceramic cat
chaos within. Step inside, and you’ll see
cloisters crowded with tiny white figures.
Take a closer look, and you’ll find that they’re
all cats !
Considered home by all maneki neko ,
Gotokuji Temple’s mythos is fascinating but
perhaps not quite 100 percent historically
established. Apocryphal or not, the story is as
follows: Once upon a time, a wandering
feudal lord sought shelter from a tempest
underneath a tree not far from the temple. He
noticed the priest’s cat beckoning him with
its paw and followed it into the temple.
Moments later, that same sheltering tree was
vaporized by lightning. To honor the
portentous pet, the feudal lord created the
first maneki neko , beckoning paw and all.
7 Houtong
The Village Saved By Its
Situated on Taiwan’s northern coast, the
village of Houtong was literally saved by cats.
It sounds like the plot of a Disney movie, but
in the 1970s, this once-proud mining town
was on the verge of disintegration, thanks to
the emergence of cleaner energy sources,
such as oil and gas.
The population had apocalyptically dwindled
from 6,000 to a few hundred, and the little
coal hub was in its death throes. Then in
2008, in a miracle that would be par for the
course in Hollywood feel-good films, a
random cat fan known Internet-wide as
“Palin88” staged a photo op for the village’s
large cat contingent.
With hundreds of cats lazing about the
streets, Houtong immediately became an
online sensation and suddenly needed a
tourism board. Now, people are flocking from
all corners of the globe to visit the slightly
renamed Houtong Cat Village. They descend
by the thousands on weekend jaunts to
indulge their cat lust and inadvertently save a
portion of Taiwanese mining history.
6 Cats And Marriage Beliefs
For all their ferocity, would you believe that
the Vikings loved cats? They stocked felines to
keep home and ship rat-free , and the most
renowned of these breeds, the hulking
Norwegian forest cat, still thrives in
Scandinavia and on Reddit.
Because of their connection to Freyja, the
goddess of getting it on, felines gained
mystical status, and the Vikings looked upon
all cat-related events as predictors of a fruitful
(or fitful) marriage. For example, gifting
newlyweds a black cat was a surefire way to
ensure wedded bliss for all their days. In
contrast to our modern stereotype of the crazy
cat lady, all feline-frenzied females were
guaranteed to eventually tie the knot.
Interestingly, many other peoples, including
the French and English, adhered to the belief
that felines doubled as matrimonial crystal
balls. Seemingly random factors such as a
mew or a sneeze could influence upcoming
marriages. Half a Eurasian landmass away,
the same beliefs propagated through the
Buddhist world, where anything that meowed
and had dark fur was considered a
prognosticator of future riches . Polydactyl, or
thumbed, cats were also considered lucky and
fawned over.
5 Kuching Cat Museum
The Kuching Cat Museum , in the Malaysian
state of Sarawak, is the first institution of its
kind and the world’s largest repository of all
things feline. Kuching roughly means “Cat
City,” and as such, no better place could exist
to showcase historical artifacts alongside
tacky cat curios from all corners of the globe.
In total, over 2,000 pieces from disparate
cultures and times are displayed.
Operated under the auspices of Kuching’s
North City Hall, the museum isn’t merely a
kitschy tourist attraction. It’s also a scholarly
place, indulging in history and global cat
mythology. To distinguish itself from sleazy
roadside attractions of the same theme, the
museum is filled with rare, historical goodies,
such as a 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummy and
the world’s rarest taxidermied cat, the elusive
Felis badia of Bornean fame.
If the museum wasn’t enough, Kuching is rife
with cat statues and is also home to the Meow
Meow Cafe .
4 Pan-American Jaguar
Big cats are mostly associated with savannas
and other African backdrops, but the stately
jaguar is all-American. Endemic to the New
World, these animals are inextricably
entrenched in all sorts of Pan-American lore.
Jaguars are also associated with all sorts of
desirable virtues like ferocity and valor. Even
its name is awesome, meaning “he who kills
in one fell swoop.” The Aztec, Maya, and Inca
all revered the animal and enshrined it in
their panoply of Gods. Temples were built to
honor the jaguar’s magnificence, and the
Maya even inducted the ferocious feline as
their god of the underworld, complete with
priests, called balam , to ordain over all death-
and jaguar-related ventures.
The jaguar also features prominently in
Native American legends , often as a guiding
figure . In the story of the jaguar and the baby
skunk, the former becomes godfather to the
latter, teaching his stinky friend to “hunt.” In
reality, the skunk was simply tasked with
pointing out a target for the large cat to
dispose of. Not realizing his limitations, the
baby skunk then attempts to bring down a
large elk on his own and is summarily killed .
3 Japan’s Cat Islands
Aoshima is one of those rare places where
cats heavily outnumber humans . The
Japanese island, part of the Ehime prefecture,
houses a modest fishing village with six times
as many felines as humans. Feedings
routinely attract a ubiquity of cats, and the
island has grown popular with tourists, much
to the chagrin of the few permanent human
Aoshima isn’t alone, either. Tashirojima
Island also holds an overwhelming cat
contingent , several hundred strong with only
around 100 human caretakers to revel in the
fluffiness. Residents revere the cats, who
were enshrined on the island almost 300 years
ago as mousers. Tashirojima was home to a
bustling, island-wide silkworm growing
operation, and the kitties were brought in to
protect valuable worms from rodent
predation. Later on, fishermen became so
enamored with the animals that they erected
a cat stupa , or shrine, at the island’s center.
If two cat islands aren’t enough for you
ailurophiles out there, rest assured that Japan
has at least nine other cat islands that you
can visit.
2 The Site Of Caesar’s
Stabbing Has Been
Repurposed Into A Cat
Former Roman dictator and salad namesake
Gaius Julius Caesar was betrayed and killed
by his colleagues at the Theater of Pompey in
44 BC. Now known as Largo di Torre
Argentina, this historic site has quite
unexpectedly been repurposed into a cat
sanctuary .
Located about 6 meters (20 ft) under age-
ravaged Roman streets, the large temple
complex was unearthed when Mussolini’s
crews were refurbishing the area in 1929.
Over the next 80 years, the site of one of
history’s most notorious murders bore witness
to yet another invasion—feral cats. The multi-
tiered structure was apparently irresistible to
the city’s many stray cats, and they decided
to aggregate within the perfectly sculpted
cubbyholes and on top of immaculately
shaped colonnades.
Rome’s total feline population is around
300,000, and the city’s laws protect cat
gathering spots as urban sanctuaries. No one
may disrupt any place where five or more
cats have made their roost.
1 Nineteenth-Century Cat
Meme Photography
Cat memes are no recent invention. As long as
photography has existed, people have been
gussying up their felines in human garb and
posing them for elaborately staged portraits.
It all started with 19th-century British
photographer and cat meme pioneer Harry
Pointer, who cut his teeth taking cat pictures
au naturel. That was pretty cool, but he
decided that he could boost his appeal by
enticing his Brighton Cats, as they came to be
known, into reenacting human behaviors. We
can’t vouch for his methods, as animal
cruelty laws had yet to be invented, and
clubbing seals was still legal, but Pointer
experimented with several other animals as
well. He found that pigs, dogs, and rabbits
were stubbornly uncooperative, but young
felines were perfectly malleable.
Almost 40 years later, in 1906, Harry Whittier
Frees would achieve the next revolution in
feline photography by slapping a party cap on
the family cat and unknowingly birthing a
new and long-lasting art form.

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