A team of scientists looked to gain further insight on the cat domestication process by carrying out a series of DNA tests. They did so as there is still much to learn about the domestication process of the once wild felines. This has also been hard to track, based just on fossil skeletons.
The new research looked at specific cat DNA markers and followed their spread throughout time and continents. In turn, this helped show when people started taking cats with them as they traveled, a possible sign of domestication.
Previous studies suggest that wild felines first started hanging around humans because of their habit of hunting rodents. As these latter converged around food sources, cats eventually started living alongside people and also getting tamer. However, it is still unclear when these fierce felines became house pets.
Cat Domestication Process in the Works some 10,000 Years Ago?
The new study strengthens the idea that felines were already in a domestication process more than 9,000 years ago. Researchers analyzed the DNA data collected from 209 ancient cats, the oldest having lived as far back as 9,000 years ago.
These samples come from Europe, Asia, and Africa, and even include Egyptian cat mummies. The team also compared and studied 28 modern wild cats from East Africa and Bulgaria.
This new study also concentrated on the ancient dispersal of cats. Besides confirming the first traces of domestication as being over 9,000 years old, results also showed that cats started becoming traveling partners.
Namely, the DNA samples studies indicated the presence of a distinct genetic signature in more than one location. First discovered in cats living on the Asian side of Turkey, this was then traced to Bulgaria, some 6,000 years ago. Then, it was found in Romania, over 5,000 years ago, followed by Greece, another 3,000 years ago.
This seems to indicate that cats started becoming traveling companions as they could have been taken by boat as the first farmers started colonizing Europe.
“The cat, being a territorial animal, does not move a lot on its own. Archaeological and historical records tell us that cats probably were translocated mostly through ships since the spread was relatively fast,” stated the team.
Still, more research will be needed though. For example, scientists will look to determine whether domesticated Egyptian cats come from the same branch or if a different process took place. Current study results are available in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
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