Cats have come a long way before they became the internet sensations we know them as today. If it was not for their great skills as pest exterminators, we might not have that funny video of a cat knocking things over that is going around the office.
It should not be forgotten that the cat’s human servants played a big part in all of this as well. Today, cats can be found in almost all corners of the Earth. The only place that seems to be unpopulated by cats is Antarctica, and scientists are still unsure as to why. During various excavations done on Viking and Stone Age graves, as well as Egyptian burial sites, scientists uncovered more than 200 cat remains. When they tested the cat DNA found at these sites, scientists realized that cats spread across the globe in two separate waves.
Unfortunately, cat remains are not easy to come by. What makes things even more difficult for researchers is the fact the domesticated cats are mostly indistinguishable from feral cats from the same period. Scientists are still unsure as to how exactly cats went from being wild to lounging around in our laps. Fortunately for us, a recent study that spanned more than 10 years may provide us with more answers about our favorite pets.
One of the first domesticated cats was the wildcat named “Felis silvestris lybica,” and it appeared in Turkey some 10,000 years ago when humans started storing grain. As humans began to farm and store grain, rodents started visiting people’s warehouses. As the numbers of rodents rose so did the numbers of the wildcats that were hunting them. People soon noticed how good the wildcats were at exterminating these pests and they soon came to the idea that keeping these felines around may be extremely beneficial.
From that point, cats started spreading slowly across the continent, and soon they reached Europe.
A similar thing occurred in Egypt. The breed “Felis silvestris lybica” was depicted in a lot of artwork from 1500 B. C. Egypt. All of the artwork shows the cats in domestic situations that include humans. The cats can be found lounging beneath their “master’s” feet. The fact that many important trade routes went through this part of the world in order to connect Africa and the Mediterranean is probably the reason why this breed specifically spread so quickly.
During the long ship voyages is when people, once again, discovered the usefulness of felines. Once again the cats were used to exterminate the rodents that plagued the ships. Viking ships are probably responsible for the cats spreading to northern Europe.
As the cats were mostly used for the extermination of pests, people did not think much about how the cats look or behave. But, sometime during 1300 A.D., people started taking more and more care about their feline companions. Pretty soon they started separating different specimens in order to breed them. Soon, a particularly specific mutation came along where the cat had blotched tabby markings. The gene soon spread across Europe and Africa and by the 19th century it became common as any other.
Even today domesticated cats breed with their wild counterparts. This is most likely the reason why domestic and wild cats appear to be as similar as they are. And this is almost certainly the reason we do not see as much genetic diversity as we do in dogs. Cats have not been as easily domesticated like dogs, and most of the pet cats people have behave the way they do because they were not properly domesticated.