Cats first domesticated in ancient Egypt, Near East, genetic study shows

The domesticated cat originated in ancient Egypt and the Near East about 10,000 years ago, according to a new genetic analysis.

David Sims | Jun 21, 2017

   

The domesticated cat originated in ancient Egypt and the Near East about 10, 000 years ago, according to a new genetic analysis.

The study is detailed in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Scientists at the University of Leuven in Belgium looked at DNA samples from cat remains dating from between 100 and 9, 000 years ago, according to UPI. The remains were recovered from archaeological sites in Europe, Africa, and the Near East.

The genetic analysis proved that domestic cats are descended from the African wildcat, Felis silvestris lybica, which is native to Egypt and the Near East.

Coinciding with the rise of agriculture, humans probably valued wild felines for reducing the rodent population around grain harvests and trash dumps.

Then, as farmers brought domesticated cats with them when they migrated to new regions and sailors took them aboard ships to reduce rat populations, the kitty-cat spread quickly across Europe. Evidence of Egyptian cats has even been found at Viking settlements around the Baltic Sea, the authors say.

The scientists also found that the striped coat pattern, as seen in ancient Egyptian murals, occurred more often in ancient times. The blotchy tabby cat pattern became common only during the Middle Ages.

"It's still unclear, however, whether the Egyptian domestic cat descends from cats imported from the Near East or whether a separate, second domestication took place in Egypt," said lead researcher and paleogeneticist Claudio Ottoni, in a statement. "Further research will have to show."

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