Cats Conquered the World Through the Seas, DNA Study Suggests
A new DNA study suggests that our feline friends have conquered the world by boarding ships and sailing through the vast oceans.
The study, published in the journal Nature, showed that domesticated cats came from wild cats that were tamed by farmers to protect their grain stockpiles from rodents and mice. Due to the cat's natural affinity in catching mice, they were brought along by farmers, ancient mariners and even Vikings during sea voyages.
"We found for the first time that in prehistoric times cats from the Near East and, in classical times, from Egypt accompanied people on their journeys, thereby conquering the Ancient World," said Eva-Marie Geigl of Institut Jacques Monod, one of the authors of the study, in a report from ABC News. "They were the ancestors or our present-day domestic cats all over the world."
For the study, the researchers analyzed mitochondrial DNA from the remains of 290 cats coming from over 30 archaeological excavations in the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Additionally, the researchers also sequenced the DNA of cat remains that were found in a Viking grave in Germany.
Their analysis suggests that cats have spread throughout the world in two waves. The first one occurred about 12,000 years ago, which coincides with early farming communities in the Middle East. On the other hand, the second wave occurred thousands of years later.
The researchers found a particular mitochondrial DNA lineage of wild cats that expanded from the Middle East to the eastern Mediterranean during the first wave, while a mitochondrial DNA common to Egyptian cats have spread rapidly around Eurasia and Africa during the second wave.
While the first wave of the cats' sea voyage was attributed to the farmers, the researchers linked the second wave to the expeditions of Vikings. The maternal DNA found in a Viking grave in Germany has common attributes like the one found in mummified cats in Egypt.
However, unlike Egyptians, Vikings did not worship or adore the feline species. As a matter of fact, Vikings even use cat skins to warm themselves during cold winters.
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