Your cat might prefer a store-bought treat to hunting their own meals and a comfy spot on the couch instead of the ground outside, but your pampered pet has more in common with wild cats than you might think.
It is believed that domestic cats are the prodigy of an ancient species of wild cat that most likely lived in Asia 10-12 million years ago.
There is a lot of conjecture surrounding how our house cats eventually turned away from their wild roots, but evidence suggests feline domestication first happened around 10,000 years ago. As cats grew closer to humans, they became tamer, and domestic breeds began to emerge.
Today, the Cat Fanciers Association recognizes 45 pedigreed cat breeds. Meanwhile, The International Cat Association acknowledges 71.
Regardless of which organization you ask, each of these individual breeds has its own origin story.
Some are relatively new hybrid breeds, but others are significantly older. There are cat breeds out there that have existed for thousands of years.
It’s hard to put exact dates on when some of these ancient cat breeds originated, but current evidence tells us the following cat breeds are the oldest in the world.
Easily recognized by their “pointed” coats, clear blue eyes, and large ears, Siamese cats are what is called a “natural” cat breed. This means their coat pattern is a result of a genetic mutation and not human-influenced breeding.
It is believed that these favored felines originated near a sacred temple in what is now Thailand. The earliest known evidence of these distinctive cats comes from a Thai manuscript that has been dated to the 14th century. Entitled “Tamra Maew” (The Cat Book Poems), the text refers to domestic cats with dark faces. It is believed the breed has connections to ancient Thai royalty as well as Buddhist monks.
Another ancient cat breed with striking physical features, the Abyssinian most likely comes from Ancient Egypt. These slender felines were highly valued in ancient Egyptian communities and were depicted on pottery and represented in hieroglyphics.
The ancient Abyssinian most likely looked slightly different from its modern prodigy, but the breed is known for its lithe body and large ears. Today, they are exceptionally athletic cats and popular for their rich cinnamon-colored coats.
#3 Norwegian Forest Cat
While pharaohs fawned over the Abyssinian, it is believed Vikings that lived around 1000 C.E. are mainly responsible for taming the Norwegian Forest Cat. The ancient versions of these large cats were used as pest control on Viking ships.
By keeping the rat population under control, these cats also helped control disease and protect food stores. Their valued positions onboard ships kept them in close contact with humans. It’s also how the breed spread to other areas of the world.
Like other breeds, the original Norwegian Forest Cats most likely looked different than today’s version. One theory suggests the breed is a combination of short-haired Norwegian cats and long-haired cats that were likely brought to Norway by Crusaders. Regardless of how today’s cats got their stunning good looks, it’s one of the most ancient cat breeds in the world.
#4 Japanese Bobtail
While the Norwegian Forest Cat is both an ancient cat breed and one of the largest, the Japanese Bobtail is usually on the smaller size. They typically don’t weigh more than 10 pounds, and their appearance is often compared to a rabbit thanks to the fact their back legs are slightly longer than the front.
The earliest recordings of this native Japanese cat come from wood cuttings and artwork that have been dated to the 6th century. Many people kept these cats because they were believed to bring good luck.
They also played an integral role in the ancient economy by controlling rat populations at vital silkworm farms. At one point, they were even considered part of the ruling class in China, and common citizens were not permitted to keep them as pets.
Native to Russia, the Siberian cat is beloved both in its home country and across the globe. It’s hard to pinpoint when this ancient cat breed first came about, but it plays a starring role in several Russian fairy tales. In many stories, these hardy cats protect children and create openings to alternate worlds.
Magical powers aside, the Siberian is a natural cat breed that evolved to survive in its harsh environment. It has a thick coat and is exceptionally strong and alert. One theory suggests these fluffy cats are the original long-haired felines.
The most widely known origin story for this ancient cat breed involves liquor-making and weapon-forging French monks. The monks supposedly bred this stocky cat breed in monasteries. There’s little proof to this story, however.
What we do know is that these blue cats are mentioned by a French biologist in a textbook published in 1749. It is believed their ancestors were brought to Europe by merchants traveling from eastern countries.
Whether or not the Chartreux was originally bred by monks, history is sure that monks have historically used them for pest control. They were prized for their water repellent fur, hunting abilities, and propensity for silence.
#7 Egyptian Mau
Finally, the Egyptian Mau is widely considered to be the most ancient cat breed of them all. It’s impossible to know for certain that this cat breed emerged before all the others, but evidence suggests these ancient cats could have existed as far back as 3,000 years ago.
The earliest known Egyptian Maus were found mummified and buried alongside pharaohs. The belief is that the cats joined deceased royalty to keep them company and guide them into the afterlife.
According to Petfinder, the Egyptian Mau is the only natural domesticated cat breed with spots. Their spots give them a wild look, but they are generally loyal companions to their favorite people. They don’t always like strangers, but if you earn an Egyptian Mau’s trust, you’ll have a lifelong friend.