Some feline stories caught my eye this week. They illustrate the important role that domesticated humans have played in the civilizations that cats have built over the past few thousand years.
The first tale (a tale not bottle-brushed) comes from Illinois, from the burial mounds north of St. Louis. The mounds date to about two thousand years ago, from a period and people now called the Hopewell tradition. Among many other artifacts, these peoples left many large mounds, some of them tombs, others of unclear significance.
A re-analysis of one of the funerary mounds has revealed that it contained a young bobcat. The cat was carefully lain in its grave, with its paws pressed together. It was wearing a necklace of marine shells and bear teeth. The cat’s bones bore no evidence of sacrifice or other damage. In a moment of feline ignominy, it was first incorrectly identified as a puppy and placed in a “puppy burial” box. But the bobkitten’s identity has now been corrected.
The mounds in which the cat was buried were otherwise reserved for humans. Dogs were buried back in the village, not at these mounds. So this cat was someone special. A photograph of the necklace and interviews with the scientists involved are on Science Magazine’s news pages.
The second feline story concerns Tama, the stationmistress cat of Kishi train station in western Japan. As business declined at the station, the human employees were dismissed, but Tama stayed on and was officially appointed to her duties at the station. She rose to vice-president of the rail company. She boosted rail traffic and her tenure resulted in an estimated 1.1 billion Yen boost to the local economy. Train carriages were painted in her honor.
She has now died, at age 16. The regional governor released a statement expressing his “deep sorrow and appreciation.” Her funeral rivaled that of bobkitten, with thousands in attendance. Now she is transformed to Shinto kami, a deified cat. Or, I should say, a cat recognized by humans as deified. Cats know themselves to be deified already, with or without human intervention. Nitama, a younger cat, is apprenticing to take her role.
Here in the Christianized West, no mention of cats in the Bible. The old Judeo-Christian prophets knew when they’d met their match, perhaps. But Mohammed understood the feline-divine order: he is said to have cut the sleeve of his prayer tunic rather than disturb the sleep of his favorite cat, Muezza. I can imagine a reincarnational thread from bobkitten to Muezza to Tama. Although, knowing cats and threads, it is likely to be tangled beyond hope of salvage or comprehension. Linearity is an abomination unto the cat.