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The Domestication of Cats

Many people believe that cats became domesticated in Egypt, but a genetic study suggests that feline ancestors originally came from more humble roots.

Cat face

Photo: mark sebastian (flickr)

Research shows that cats like this one became domesticated about 130,000 years ago

Many people believe that cats became domesticated in Egypt, but a genetic study suggests that feline ancestors originally came from more humble roots.

Researchers traced the mitochondrial DNA in nearly a thousand domestic and wild cats. Looks like the ancestors of domestic cats lived in the Fertile Crescent about 130,000 years ago.

The Fertile Crescent was the location where humans first settled and began farming, as opposed to hunting and gathering. It’s a belt of land stretching east from the Mediterranean Sea, and down into what is now Iraq.

When agriculture began and humans started storing grain, cats became useful for catching rodents. The humans appreciated the cats killing rodents, and the cats put up with the humans in exchange for food and shelter.

In other words, the wild cats domesticated themselves.

Archaeologists also found cats from 9500 years ago buried with humans on the island of Cyprus. Since the island had no cats before that, and it was settled by farmers from Turkey, scientists think the farmers brought cats with them.

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