A new study looked to bring further insight into the evolution of cat domestication by confirming some previously vehiculated dates and also introducing new locations.
Scientists have been having a hard time setting an exact date for the period in which wild felines started changing and moving towards our modern-day beloved house pets. One of the difficulties in determining this transition was its only having skeleton fossils as an information base.
Now, a new study went to collect and analyze DNA samples. These come from the bones and teeth of over 200 ancient cats. These remains spanned over 9,000 years of human and cat history and can be traced back to numerous locations. They include ancient Egypt, Viking graves, countries in Europe and Asia, and even modern day Angola.
Two Paths to Cat Domestication
This new research determined that felines are most likely to have spread in two waves. One of them left Egypt, and the other the Near East, and both must have traveled by ship to new places.
Near East cats are believed to have started hanging around humans based on these being farmers. Felis silvestris lybica or the wildcat ancestor of modern-day cats, was a rodent hunter, species attracted by the harvested grains. Eventually, the wild cats are believed to have started settling around humans and to have gotten tamer.
These farmers may also be among the first to domesticate cats, thanks to their efficiency in keeping away rodents. They are also considered to have contributed to their spread. As people started migrating and colonizing Europe, they also took these felines along with them.
Ancient Egyptian cats would have had a similar path. They were also taken along on boat journeys for the same rat-catching purpose. These were also noted to have become more common than the Near East cats.
“From their role of pest control agents that characterized their relationship with humans since the Neolithic, it is possible that cats in Egypt became the companions that we know today,” stated the study team.
Research results are available in a paper in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. The study also traced back the origin of the tabby cat. This also helped offer a new possible date as to the start of the cat domestication process.
The study suggests that cats did not change much, even as they began tagging along humans. Initially used as a pest control, they carried on with their own habits. The team believes that they probably became a pet “much later” than expected.
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