Why is it hard to know which came first, dogs or cats?

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The debate rages on, which came first, dogs or cats? The mounting evidence shows that dogs were domesticated long before cats, but in my opinion, it all has to do with the nature of dogs and cats. Dogs are pack animals and can be trained by "alpha dogs" (or humans). Whereas cats have a different social structure and are direct descendants of wild cats. So domestication of dogs looks different to archaeologists than the domestication of cats. Let me explain...

Determining the exact era when cats were domesticated is difficult because cats aren't necessarily raised by humans but are attracted to human settlements. Imagine you have a number of cats living close to villages, they let humans touch them and interact with them, even allow their kittens to be touched but the cats remain independent. They come and go to and from the village as they please. Humans allow this because they understand that cats need their freedom to hunt.


Dogs on the other hand, are easier to see as domestic because they have often had collars and leashes. Dogs needed these collars and leashes so humans could control their labor, pulling sleds, sniffing out game for hunting, protection against predators, etc.

You see the difference? A cat on a leash can't stalk and kill rodents. But a dog on a leash can bark when danger approaches it's human. Archaeologists have found evidence of leashes and were able to determine without a doubt that the dog was domesticated.


Another major difference between cats and dogs that makes it difficult to determine which came first, dogs or cats is that cats are direct descendants of wild cats. A domestic cat is physically similar to its wild ancestors. So when archaeologists find the remains of a cat near a village, it is hard for them to tell if that cat was an integral part of village life or it was just passing by.

So for now, the debate continues, which came first, dogs or cats?


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