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How Cats Took Over the Ancient World

Jun 23, 2017 11:20 AM EDT
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Cats have lived side by side along humans for thousands of years. A new study revealed the most feline thing of all time: it was actually their "decision" to get domesticated , not ours.

According to a report from National Geographic, researchers analyzed the DNA of over 200 cats from the last 9,000 years from ancient Romanian cats and Egyptian cat mummies to modern African wildcats. They suggested that there are two major cat lineages that led to today's domestic pet humans know and love.

The earliest ancestors of the modern domestic cat went from southwest Asia to Europe around 4400 B.C., approaching farming populations in the Fertile Crescent about 8,000 years ago.

Mice and rats flocked to human civilizations because of the crops and agricultural byproduct they produced. In turn, cats likely followed the rodents and ended up making contact with the human settlements. Humans and felines embarked on a mutually beneficial relationship - cats catching pesky rodents and men feeding them - that, in a way, continues to this day.

"This is probably how the first encounter between humans and cats occurred," study coauthor Claudio Ottoni of the University of Leuven explained. "It's not that humans took some cats and put them inside cages."

The second lineage were of African cats that became abundant in Egypt, the Mediterranean and the Old World around 1500 B.C.

Basically, the cats domesticated themselves. Prehistoric humans then started taking felines along their land and sea journeys to help with rodent control.

The scientists also observed the evolution of the cats, especially when humans began bringing them along their trips across the world. There haven't been many genetic changes at all apart from the emergence of blotched or striped coats that were first seen in the Middle Ages in domesticated tabby cats. In terms of their DNA, cats haven't changed much upon domestication.

The study was published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

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