The history of the Mau began in Egypt and dates back over 3000 years, making the Mau perhaps the oldest of all domestic cats. Maus are the only naturally spotted breed of domestic cat; they are likely ancestors of the African Wild Cat (Felis lyica ocreata) with domestication occurring sometime between 4000 and 2000 BC.
The ancient Egyptians very quickly saw the value of the ‘Mau’, the Egyptian word for ‘cat’, using them initially to keep mice, rats and other vermin away from their homes and grain stores. They also used the cats to hunt and retrieve birds; in ancient Egyptian art cats are often depicted stalking through the marshes of the Nile Delta with birds in their mouths. Some of the oldest images of cats in ancient Egypt are hieroglyphs carved on a temple wall to the south of Cairo dated around 2200 BC.
From around 2000 BC, the cat started to hold a great importance in Egyptian religion and was worshipped as a deity. In Egyptian mythology, cats were identified with the goddess Bast, who was often depicted as a slender, regal woman with the head of a cat. Cats were revered as Bast’s physical symbol, and upon a feline’s death Egyptians went into mourning, shaving their eyebrows as a mark of respect for the dead animal, and wailing and pounding their chests to show their grief. The sacred cats were often mummified, along with rodents and other small prey to sustain them in the afterlife.
Evidence in the form of writing, ornaments, statues and papyrus paintings shows that spotted cats did indeed exist during the time of the Egyptian cat cult; the Mau is believed to be a direct descendant of those cats.