Cats are currently found on every continent except Antartica, but now we know the origins of everyone's favorite felines.
All modern domestic cats descend from a single type of wild cat known as Felis silvestris lybica. This cat's descendants now inhabit every corner of the globe and are among the most popular pets in the world.
The Near East
Roughly 9,000 years ago, farmers in what is now known as Turkey began domesticating cats as a means of protecting their stores of grain from rodents. This was the first event in the long history of the domesticated cat, but it was far from the last.
Cats In Ancient Egypt
Many years later, a second domestication effort occurred in ancient Egypt. This is likely not surprising to those with an interest in Egyptian history as the people of ancient Egypt considered cats to be sacred animals. The exact reason for this veneration is unknown, but it likely had to do with the fact that cats would often hunt and kill some of the more dangerous creatures found in Egypt, so cats were seen as protective.
Revealing The Origins Of Modern Domestic Cats
Determining the origin of the modern house cat is difficult due to the fact that cats have been one of mankind's constant companions. Wherever humans went, cats followed and interbred with other species along the way. This has resulted in modern cats, whether they are found in America or Australia, sharing the same genes.
In order to unravel the mystery of the modern house cat, researchers examined the DNA of 200 cat skeletons which spanned nearly 9,000 years of history. The cats of Eygpt eventually spread to Rome and the rest of Europe where they became welcome companions to sailors. Not only would rodents ruin food supplies, they could also chew through a ship's ropes making them a major problem.
As for modern domesticated cats, many of the so-called "fancy" breeds were the result of selective breeding that became very popular in 19th century France, but the moment of domestication is difficult to determine. In fact, some researchers have argued that modern house cats still aren't fully domesticated.
The First Cats
While this study does shed some light on the origins of domestic cats, the researchers involved are still puzzled as to where the original Egyptian cats came from. Researchers would need to find intact DNA from even older Egyptian cats, which is easier said than done.