Do you have a large cat? If so, you can thank the Vikings.
The furry friends we cuddle now are descended from the Near Eastern wildcat. And we’ve cuddled them for a long time: the oldest known site of domesticated cats is a grave in Cyprus from 7500 BCE. The stereotype of cat-loving Ancient Egyptians is also generally true, as they were keeping cats nearly 6,000 years ago.
Cats were first introduced in Denmark around 200 CE. They were originally rare animals kept for their fur, and later used as pest control. A recent study from the University of Copenhagen decided to examine the many cat skeletons at the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen.
After going through 2,000 years of remains, dating from the late Bronze Age to the 1600s, researchers measured the bones. They then compared these measurements to Danish cat bones of the last 150 years.
It turns out that cats, like other mammals, decreased in size as they were domesticated; by the time domestic cats made their way to the Vikings, they were far smaller than their ancestor the Near Eastern wildcat. But something interesting then happened to these Danish cats: between the Viking Age and today, domestic cats have grown significantly, increasing at least 16% in size.
Such growth possibly comes from increased food availability. Viking towns expanded during this time and had plenty of easily huntable pests, and soon human owners happily fed and cared for their felines.
The decrease of work needed to get food likely meant that the less energy these cats spent on hunting, the more energy they could spend on growing larger.
Sources And Further Reading
- Underwood, E. Viking cat skeletons reveal a surprising growth in the size of felines over time. Science, December 12, 2018.
- Bitz-Thorsen, J. Domestic cats (Felis catus) in Denmark have increased significantly in size since the Viking Age. Danish Journal of Archaeology. 7 (2), 241-254.