Book preview: Cats and people have shared the planet for at least two separate ice ages

How far back do people and cats go?

Too far for a written record of their origins. Still, we need to get both species onto the scene before describing how cats were domesticated.

In lieu of human writing or art, today’s experts use fossils and molecular markers to “read” the past. They’ve found that most modern land mammal groups have survived multiple ice ages.

The relevant deep-freezes for us are the last one–the Wisconsin/Würm glaciation (named after where it was first identified)–and the one before that, the Illinois/Riss.

There was more than one ice age?

Short answer: There have been dozens. It all began, for complex reasons that aren’t yet fully understood, two and a half million years ago. This was around the time that our close ancestors and those of the domestic cat first appeared.

Details: Against a background of 4.5 billion years’ worth of Earth history, the ice ages aren’t that big a deal. Our planet has seen colder, as well as warmer, times.

But 2.5 million years is too long a stretch for most of us to grasp, so let’s put a face on this story–a round, furry little face.

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