An article in the latest Scientific American looks again at the history of feline domestication. It has long been held that cats were first tamed in ancient Egypt some 3,600 years ago. However, this is not the case.
In 2004 Jean-Denis Vigne of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and his colleagues unearthed even earlier evidence that humans kept cats as pets. The discovery comes from Cyprus, where 9,500 years ago an adult human of unknown gender was buried along with an eight-month-old cat, whose body was oriented in the same direction as the human’s – a sure sign of closeness between the two.
Cats are not native to most Mediterranean islands, so they must have been brought over from the nearby Asian coast and it now appears that cats were being tamed just as humans were establishing the first settlements in that part of the Middle East known as the Fertile Crescent.
Cats in general are unlikely candidates for domestication as they tend to be solitary hunters and not pack animals. It seems as though cats chose to live among humans because of opportunities they found for themselves.
Early settlements in the Fertile Crescent between 9,000 and 10,000 years ago created a completely new environment for wild animals to exploit. One such was the house mouse, Mus musculus domesticus, whose remains have been found among the first human stores of wild grain from Israel, dating to around 10,000 years ago. The house mice moved into people’s homes and silos and thrived.
It is almost certainly the case that these house mice, and large amounts of rubbish in the early settlements, would have attracted cats. These food sources would have encouraged cats to adapt to living with people. In other words, humans didn't domesticate cats, they domesticated themselves because it suited them. Anyone who lives with a cat knows that this is probably true.