Ancient DNA Unravels Cat Domestication



Flickr Jerry Liu (CC)

The truth about cats and dogs is this: despite being the two species that humans are most likely to have as pets, Rex and Ruffles had very different paths from the wild to our couches. Analyzing ancient and modern cat DNA, researchers believe they have figured out much of the mystery surrounding cat domestication — and no, it didn’t start in ancient Egypt.

Both the archaeological and paleogenetic record show that dogs are unique in being the only animal domesticated prior to the advent of agriculture — so while cat and dog fanciers will forever disagree on whether Canis lupus familiaris is indeed man’s best friend, science has shown us that it is at least man’s first friend. With an ongoing, multidisciplinary research project to pin down the origins of dogs, scientists are developing a fairly detailed picture of Fido’s roots.

But despite millions of us living in close quarters with cats, much of their backstory is unknown. Archaeologists have found some remains — the cat mummies of ancient Egypt are the most famous, though a much older complete cat skeleton was buried beside a human at a site in Cyprus that dates back to about 7,500 B.C. But researchers don’t have enough to be certain about where and when cat domestication occurred.

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