Cats and People: Children of the Ice Age


Just how far back do people and the ancestors of domestic cats go? All the way back to Plio-Pleistocene times, when the ice ages began.

Continue reading


Cats and Disasters: Myth v. Fact

While sharing their lives with us, domestic cats occasionally have been caught up in our great tragedies.

The sad facts sometimes are clearly documented, like the landslide on White Island that a cat named Peter the Great survived, though none of his human friends did. (A volcano was involved, but Peter showed no signs of supervillainry.)

In other disasters, we don’t know what happened to the cat afterwards–people understandably were focusing more on their own troubles. It’s a mystery, for example, whether the house cat that escaped London’s Great Fire in 1666 recovered after Samuel Pepys witnessed its rescue (33. Mercers’ Chapel).

And then there are the legends that people make as part of coping psychologically with an enormous calamity. These may or may not have a factual basis. Stories about cats associated with the destruction of Pompeii and the Titanic sinking are two good examples.


It’s very easy to imagine strays and panicked pet cats fleeing the city along with people when this happened.

The remains of dogs and horses have been found in the ruins. What about cats?

A writer/photographer named Carl Van Vechten wrote in 1922 that:

Among the objects unearthed at Pompeii was the skeleton of a woman bearing in her arms the skeleton of a cat, whom perhaps she gave her life to save.

Every cat lover in the world wants this to be true, but let’s face it. In the Internet age, we would have seen the images by now, if they were readily available.

Then again, how many of us knew that the bones of a hapless Herculaneum woman and the baby she tried to protect have been recovered, until the BBC included this fact in Pompeii: The Last Day?

That’s even more compelling, and yet most of us never knew about it until 2003 or whatever time we first watched that Emmy award-winning television special.

Unfortunately, Carl Van Wechten never indicated his source of information about the Pompeiian woman/cat skeletons. Did he make it up or is it neatly filed away, unnoticed, in some archive?

I’ve tried an online search for more details, and here’s what I found.

Continue reading