Cats are in it for the food: Film at 11
And I like cats! WaPo:
Large-scale grain agriculture began in the Near East's Fertile Crescent. With the storage of surplus grain came mice, which fed on it and contaminated it.
Settled farming communities with dense rodent populations were a new habitat. Wildcats came out of the woods and grasslands to exploit it. They may have lived close to man -- but not petting-close -- for centuries.
Eventually, though, natural selection favored individual animals whose genetic makeup by chance made them tolerant of human contact. Such behavior provided them with things -- a night indoors, the occasional bowl of milk -- that allowed them to out-compete their scaredy-cat relatives.
For people, it was a great package -- agriculture, food surplus (and all the civilizing effects that came with it), with domesticated cats thrown in to protect the wealth by eating the mice.
But my cat knows me! I swear!
And a nice little evolutionary parable, too.
UPDATE Because I like cats--understanding them doesn't prevent me from liking them--I did a bit more research. (Unfortunately, the original article is behind a subscription wall.)
Research has not yet revealed a feline Lucy, or an Eve, but would you settle for five matriarchs:
At least five females of the wildcat subspecies known as Felis silvestris lybica ("cat of the woods") accomplished this delicate transition from forest to village. And from these five matriarchs all the world's 600 million house cats are descended.
So, that would mean 600 million doors that cats are on the wrong side of at any given time, assuming we count the sleeping ones. If we don't, what? 300 million?
Not only will this interesting science help cats, it will help people too:
The findings are more than an historical curiosity. "Of the 36 or 37 species of cat, all of them are threatened or endangered except for the domestic cat. There's a real conservation aspect of this work," [Carlos] Driscoll [one of the study's authors] pointed out. That's because one big problem facing the world's wild cats is their tendency to breed with feral relatives of nearby domestic cats.
"Cats are great models for human genetic disease," Driscoll explained. "Things like retinal atrophy, for example. The Laboratory of Genomic Diversity is interested in that. They're interested in making the cat a better 'model.' This is a kind of genetic background check on the cat."
In fact, the Laboratory of Genetic Diversity even has a cat genome project!
Takeaway quote from Driscoll:
"You are not civilized without a cat."
And to the Goddess of My Choice, At Least For Tonight, Bastet, I say Amen!
NOTE It's interesting that the history of the Egtyptian Goddess Bastet tracks the evolution of the cat from feral to domestic.
Originally she was viewed as the protector goddess of Lower Egypt, and consequently depicted as a fierce lion. ... Later scribes sometimes named her Bastet, a variation on Bast consisting of an additional feminine suffix to the one already present, thought to have been added to emphasise pronunciation. Since Bastet would literally mean (female) of the ointment jar, Bast gradually became thought of as the goddess of perfumes ... This gentler characteristic, of Bast as goddess of perfumes, together with Lower Egypt's loss in the wars between Upper and Lower Egypt, led to a decrease in her ferocity. Thus, by the Middle Kingdom she was generally regarded as a domestic cat rather than a lionness.
Funny how dieties evolve, isn't it?