Long before they conquered ancient Egypt, cats seduced Stone Age farmers who launched the worldwide feline takeover of human homes and hearts, a DNA study showed Monday.
The first wildcat to travel abroad, and the forefather of domestic cats today, was Felis silvestris lybica — a small, striped Middle-Eastern sub-species that went on to colonise the entire world, the research revealed.
It likely travelled to Europe by ship from the region of Anatolia around modern-day Turkey, some 6,000 years ago.
“The cat’s worldwide conquest began during the Neolithic period,” the study authors wrote.
The Neolithic was the closing chapter of the Stone Age — a time when prehistoric humans, hunter-gatherer nomads until then, first tried their hand at cultivating crops and building permanent villages.
With farming came harvest-munching rats, which in turn attracted cats.
“For ancient societies barn cats, village cats and ships’ cats provided critical protection against vermin, especially rodent pests responsible for economic loss and disease,” the researchers wrote in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
– Ancient ‘fad’ –
The team analysed the DNA of 230 buried and mummified ancient cats in a bid to settle the debate over who was responsible for turning the wild feline into the cuddly couch-slouchers we know today.
Based on their obvious reverence for the feline — immortalised in statues, paintings and even mummified carcasses — the ancient Egyptians were thought by many to have been the first cat tamers several centuries BC.
But others have pointed to a cat skeleton found in a child’s tomb in Cyprus from 7,500 BC, as proof that ancients from the Fertile Crescent beat the Egyptians to it.
The DNA trawl shows we can thank both.
F. s. lybica, the researchers found, “started to spread at times when the first farmers started to migrate into Europe” around 4,400 BC, study co-author Eva-Maria Geigl of France’s CNRS research institute told AFP.
“This can be taken as indication that they…