Science Proves Cats Were Perfect Even Before Domestication

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis
Researchers claim that the domesticated cats we know and love today have little variation in genetics from their wild ancestors.

Researchers from the University of Leuven and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences have assessed the DNA of remains found at archaeological sites, and decided that the domestic kittehs we love so much today came from ancestors in Egypt and the Near East. The DNA they used came from the bones, teeth and skin of nearly 200 cats’ remains found in various archaeological digs in Africa, Europe and the Near East.

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Remarkably, they found that the skeletons of today’s domestic cat are indistinguishable from the ancient skeletons of five subspecies of the African wildcat Felis Silvestris, and surmise that domestic cats pretty much have stayed the same as their ancient ancestors for thousands of years.

Domesticated cats of modern day come from the African wildcat, which is found in North Africa and the Near East. The researchers believe that cats were domesticated about 10,000 years ago by Near East Farmers, initially being welcomed as wildcats who kept the rampant rodent problem under control. Farmers probably recognized benefits of companionship and continued to domesticate them as they migrated.

The analysis also showed that at some point, the cats spread through Europe and other places because they were traded through the big hub of Egypt. Egyptians used cats to keep vermin off their trade ships, and in doing so, brought cats to South West Asia, Africa and Europe.

Lead author and paleontologist Claudio Ottoni says that they aren’t sure whether the Egyptian domestic cat is actually from the Near East and imported in, or a second domestication of the felix silvestris happened in Egypt. Interestingly, they do know that most of the ancient cats had stripes, and that kittehs with spots did not start cropping up until the middle ages.

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Based on the DNA of old cat bones and mummies, as well as murals that only depicted striped cats they determined that the striped cat was an ancient cat trait, whereas Middle Age artwork shows the tabby cat we recognize. The tabby coat is just about the only thing that makes the cats of old and today distinguishable.

Co-author and evolutionary geneticist Eva-Maria Geigl says that even though domesticated cats are human companions (though they tolerate both humans and other cats), their genetic makeup has not changed much from wild cats of ancient. Clearly showing her bias for cats (though we won’t blame her as cats need love too!) she lightheartedly shares that she believes cats did not need to be subject to the same domestication process dogs did through the centuries, as they were perfect from the start.

Maybe impossible to prove, but she is a scientist, so….

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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