How ancient cats colonize world

Updated 2017-06-27 15:59:39 Xinhuanet
A judge assesses a pet cat during a two-day cat show in Shenyang, capital of northeast China's Liaoning Province, April 16, 2017.

A judge assesses a pet cat during a two-day cat show in Shenyang, capital of northeast China's Liaoning Province, April 16, 2017.

Proved to be one of the most successful animals on the planet, the domestic cat has come in from the wild to lounge around the house and commandeers the most comfortable sofa, colonizing every continent except Antarctica.

A comprehensive study of cat genes recently published in Nature Ecology & Evolution reveals how cats became humans' companions and eventually spread around the world.

In the study, scientists extracted mitochondrial DNA from the hair, skin, teeth and bones of more than 200 ancient cat remains found at sites in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

DNA material shows that cats were first tamed by early farmers in the Middle East about 9,000 years ago.

A long-dead cat skeleton was discovered in a human burial site dated to 7,500BC in Cyprus.

Scientists believed that wildcats were first attracted to farms by rodents that raid grain stocks.

As pest exterminators, their relationship with humans began to blossom.

Several thousand years later, an intimate relationship between cats and humans appeared in ancient Egypt, which has been depicted in numerous artistic works around 2,000BC.

The Egyptian cats were particularly popular due to significant genetic changes linked to behaviour that distinguished them from wildcats. "It is tempting to speculate that the success of the Egyptian cat is underlain by changes in its sociability and tameness," researchers wrote.

Another boost of cat expansion owes much to sailors who valued their feline friends' usefulness on ships troubled by mice.

Egyptian cats were carried on ships to travel along maritime trade and warfare routes.

At a Viking port dated between 7th and 11th century, cat remains with Egyptian DNA were found.

Ultimately, cats were dispersed across the Mediterranean and to every corner of the globe.

(Source: Agencies)

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