Did cats pee on ancient Egyptian rugs?

A bronze sculpture of a cat in a decorative collar dates from the Saite Period, ca. 600 B.C. © Roger Wood/CORBIS

"Let's not overreact," Imhotep said. "It's just a rug. Besides, we only domesticated them a short while ago. These things take time."

"But she keeps peeing on the same rug!"

"I know, dear."

"And why does she eat all those moths if she's just going to barf them up in the night?"

Imhotep considered this and glanced down to the strange, purring creature in his lap.

"Another of the creature's mysteries," he said, stroking its soft head. "But we'll have them all figured out in another decade or so. You'll see."

Today our fruitless efforts to understand these pint-size pumas continues, despite roughly 12,000 years of cohabitation with domestic cats. That's when our food stores first swelled in the agrarian fertile crescent, drawing in mice and eaters of mice. As we abandoned our primal horned gods of chaos and the Hunt, the cats watched from the shadows. As we erected new idols to gods of celestial cycle, they crept in to investigate further -- and essentially domesticated themselves.

Our ancestors didn't bend wild cats to their will, so perhaps we can forgive them their independent spirit today. In fact, according to Dr. Brian Hare, dogs too may have self-domesticated to hang out at our fires and eat our excellent scraps. A far more social creature than cats, dogs cemented their hold on us through acute observation. They're better at reading human gestures than our closest hominid relatives.

Throw in some subtle manipulation from both species and here we are today, explaining away the behavior of these strange, furry children.

"Oh feed her already, Imhotep! She sounds just like an infant when she's hungry."

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.