Source: Nature: "Cats"
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This video segment from Nature provides a background of the history of cats. Over the ages, human beings have viewed cats as both godlike and as demons. In the year 2500 BC in Ancient Egypt, cats were revered and then mummified once they died. These mummies are being studied today. In the Middle Ages, cats were seen as evil demons associated with witchcraft. Cats became welcome household pets when rats became a problem. We also learn about wild cats on the Galapagos Islands and how cats came to America from Europe as rat catchers on commercial vessels.
Science, history, animals
The following Frame, Focus and Follow-up suggestions are best suited for elementary or middle school students using this video in an English language arts or social studies lesson. Be sure to modify the questions to meet your students' instructional needs.
What is Frame, Focus and Follow-up?
Frame (ELA) What is your opinion about cats? What does it mean to have an opinion about something?
Focus (ELA) Opinions about cats have changed throughout history. Watch this video to learn about the many different opinions and what caused them to change.
Follow Up (ELA) How did opinions about cats change throughout history? What caused them to change? How do people view cats today? Why? What is your personal opinion about cats? What do you base your opinion on? When we have an opinion about something, why is it important to be able to say what you base your opinion on?
Frame (SS) In many of your classes you have already studied the history of various people in the world. For example, we’ve learned about the part of human history when Europeans came to the Americas and established colonies. Do you think cats can have history, too?
Focus (SS) Learn about the history of cats and how the history of humans is directly related to that of cats.
Follow Up (SS) Has your understanding of history been altered in any way? Explain. For example, when you read about history, what do you usually read about? How is it different to think about the history of cats versus the history of humans?
NARRATOR: We may never know whether man first chose the Cat as a companion or as a way to control rats and mice. We do know it inspired our awe. 2500 B.C., ancient Egyptians worship at the feet of Bastet - a female Cat seen as the fierce protector of the home and goddess of fertility.
Her form was depicted in all manner of statues in her temples.
The Egyptians believed that the male Cat had a different role. According to legend, his job was to kill the evil serpent which was constantly trying to stop the sun from traveling around the world.
Cats were so revered that when they died they were embalmed and mummified, and placed in caskets with some model of the occupant displayed on the outside. As many as 300,000 Cat mummies have been found in one temple.
Behind the scenes in museums and universities, studies have been carried out to discover more about the significance of these Egyptian Temple Cats.
X-Ray pictures of these mummies clearly show the skeleton. It’s back legs and tail have been folded back against the belly; the front legs are straight; the shoulders and neck are distinct - and above that, the skull.
The neck of this one is broken. The skeleton also reveals that many of these Cats were less than a year old. Perhaps the priests sacrificed these emblems of their god in large numbers and sold them to the public as offerings.
The Romans were probably the first to introduce Cats from Egypt to Europe.
During the Middle Ages, Cats suffered a terrible turn of fortune. Once gods - they were now seen as demons, the embodiment of the devil.
“Familiars” to witches - fiendish servants to do their bidding. The church’s persecution of witches and the animals associated with them lasted for over 400 years.
During much of this time, Rats and Mice actually symbolized good and are shown here hanging the “demon Cat”.
But to some during the 14th century, the Cats unpopular image began to change.
When the Black Death sentenced 1/3 of Europe to die....
Cat’s were Man’s natural ally against the black Rat, which spread the plague.
But witch hunts persisted through the 17th century. It wasn’t until the Brown Rat swept through Europe, feeding on mans food supply, that the Cat once again became a welcomed household pet.
Finally in a total turnaround, we see Rats surrendering to the Cat.
As soon as man mastered the seas, Cats became part of ships companies....and sea routes- normally a barrier to the migration of land animals - became a highway system for Cats. Here in the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles from the nearest mainland Darwin discovered an unique fauna that had no fear of man. Bizarre creatures evolved here in complete isolation from man and his domestic animals. All of the wildlife here had never known any land predators, and are incredibly tame. Their total lack of fear has left them entirely defenseless against predation - and the Land Iguana is only one of the species that has been endangered by our seemingly innocent companion.
Cats, left behind by visiting ship’s long ago, have returned to a totally wild existence. They are lean and wary and have gone back to holding territories, feeding on whatever they can catch. Scientists have found that, surprisingly, over half their diet is grasshoppers.
But Cats are renowned opportunists - and they found the defenseless wildlife here to be easy prey. Young Iguanas and ground nesting birds are particularly vulnerable. Feral Cats are considered perhaps the greatest threat to the native wildlife of these, and many other oceanic islands.
To this day, domestic Cats easily adapt to a life at sea.
They’ve made themselves at home wherever man has migrated.
The first Cats to reach America were Rat catchers on commercial vessels that brought them from Europe around 1620.
They thrived in the cities of the north east and gradually spread from there throughout the country.
Feral Cats also occur in the American countryside. They feed on small mammals and birds. Wildlife species here evolved along with land predators and they’re not entirely defenseless. Sadly, though, the growing number of Feral Cats have begun to take their toll on the more vulnerable species.
Other rural Cats have the best of both worlds. They continue to live around humans and depend on us, in part, for their food. But they do go off hunting on their own.
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