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History of the Cat

The Norwegian forest cat (or scogkatts in Norwegian) originated between 1500 and 4,000 years ago, as a result of natural selection. Though they almost went extinct during World War II, the ancient cats are making a comeback in Norway, Sweden, Iceland and even France.

Their exact origin is up for debate. One theory is the Vikings brought short-haired from the British archipelago that mixed with long-haired cats brought by the crusaders. Another claims they are a hybrid of Siberian forest cats from Russia and Turkish Angoras.

The Angora (‘Ankara cat’) is a breed of a domestic cat. Turkish Angoras are one of the ancient, natural breeds of cat, having originated in central Turkey, in the Ankara region. The breed has been documented as early as the 17th century and is believed to be the origin of the mutations for both the coloration white and long hair.

Angora cats have long, silky coats and elegant, sinuous bodies. A younger Turkish Angora can often be mistaken for a snow weasel. Though it is known for a shimmery white coat and posh tail, Turkish Angora cats can display a variety of colors.

They come in tabby and tabby-white, along with black with an undercoat of chocolate brown, and lastly smoke varieties, and are in every color other than those that indicate crossbreeding, such as pointed, chocolate and lavender.

Eyes may be blue, green, amber, yellow, or heterochromatic (e.g., one blue and one amber or green). Ears are pointed, large and wide-set. The eyes are almond shaped and the profile forms two straight planes. The plumed tail is often carried upright, perpendicular to the back.

Longhaired cats were imported to Britain and France from Asia Minor, Persia and Russia as early as the late 16th century, though there are indications that they appeared in Europe as early as the 14th century due to the Crusades.

The Angora was recognized as a distinct breed in Europe by the 17th century. Charles Catton in his 1788 book Animals Drawn from Nature and Engraved in Aqua-tinta, gave “Persian cat” and “Angora cat” as alternative names for the same breed.

Angoras and Persians seem connected. Although some cat associations think the Persian cat is a natural breed, in the 19th century Persians and Angoras were identical. The Persian cat was developed from angora mutations by British and American cat fanciers. The Angora was used, almost to the point of extinction, to improve the coat on the Persian.

The Angora of the 20th century was used for improvement in the Persian coat, but the type has always been divergent from the Persian – particularly as the increasingly flat-faced show cat Persian has been developed in the last few decades.

Van cats are a distinctive landrace of the domestic cat found in the Lake Van region of eastern Turkey. The variety has been referred to as “the swimming cat”, and has been observed to swim in Lake Van.

They are relatively large, have a chalky white coat, sometimes with ruddy coloration on the head and hindquarters, and have blue or amber eyes or are odd-eyed (having one eye of each colour).

Cats from eastern mountainous regions of Anatolia developed into longhaired breeds like the Van and the Angora through inbreeding and natural selection. Like all domestic cats, Angoras descended from the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica). The Fertile Crescent was a place where cats were first domesticated.

Genetic research has shown that the domestic cat’s ancestor, the African wild cat (Felis lybica lybica), was domesticated, for rodent control, about 9,000 years ago in the Near East when tribes transitioned from hunter-gathering to crop farming and settled life.

The white-spotting in domestic cats appeared at the earliest stage of cat domestication, and is one of the points of evidence of early artificial selection. Van cats have been reported living in the vicinity of the city of Van and the general Lake Van area for centuries; how long is uncertain.

The naturally occurring Van cat type is popularly believed to be the basis of the Turkish Van breed, as standardised and recognised by many cat fancier organizations; it has been internationally selectively bred to consistently produce the ruddy head-and-tail colouring pattern on the white coat.

The cats are notable for their lean, long-legged appearance. They are all-white, or sometimes mostly white with amber markings around the tail and ears. Locals to the Van area identify only the all-white type as Van cats, according to a 1991 BBC documentary, Cats, written and presented by Roger Tabor.

Their most notable genetic characteristic is their almond-shaped eyes that often are mismatched colours. The most valued and valuable members of the type generally have one amber-green eye and one blue eye.

Van cats are claimed as a cultural icon by Armenians, Kurds, and Turks, who have inhabited the region at different periods in history. Some authors associate the cat with the Armenian people, a population of whom have historically lived in the Lake Van area, who have been said to have “revered” the cat.

Turkish folklore has it that a Van cat was aboard Noah’s Ark, and that as the flood waters receded, Allah (God) blessed the cat with a ruddy patch of fur on its head when it left the ark, after which it made its way to the city of Van via Mount Ararat. Many Van cats are all-white, however.

Armenians often consider the breed to be historically Armenian, as the Lake Van area was inhabited by Armenians since antiquity until their local extermination during the genocide of 1915. Prior to 1915, the area had a large Armenian population, and the Armenian homeland is centred on Lake Van, which was important even in ancient Armenian culture.

The Armenian inhabitants of Van have been said to have “loved” Van cats. Among them was post-impressionist and surrealist artist Arshile Gorky, later an immigrant to the United States, who sculpted Van cats in the early 1910s.

Armenian writer Vrtanes Papazian wrote a short novel in which the cat has been used as a symbol of the Armenian liberation movement. Armenian authors Raffi, Axel Bakunts, and Paruyr Sevak have featured Van cats in their works.

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