Recent genetic research has concluded that the cat first became domesticated soon after humans began farming and building the first civilizations, somewhere in the ancient Near East. The millions of our household cats share a common ancestor.
“Cats weren’t domesticated on purpose, they just kind of invited themselves in,” said study lead author Carlos Driscoll, a doctoral fellow at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. He conducted the research while at the U.S. National Cancer Institute’s Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, in Frederick, Md.
“Cat domestication became complete by about 3,600 years ago, although the process probably began much earlier,” Driscoll said. “It probably began with the origins of agriculture, which was about 12,000 years ago.”
Driscoll’s research team used genetic material from cats worldwide to distinguish wild breeds from domesticated cats and to conclude where and when domestication first began.
More on the domestication of cats after the jump.
From Washington Post:
“All [domestic] cats are related to one another, and they all come from the same place, and that’s the Near East” Driscoll said. Today’s domestic cats probably all descend from the wild cat native to the area,Felis s. lybica.
Looking much farther back into the record, Driscoll and his colleagues also discovered that the various lineages of wild cat began branching off from a common ancestor,Felis silvestris, more than 100,000 years ago — much earlier than was originally assumed.
The findings are more than an historical curiosity. “Of the 36 or 37 species of cat, all of them are threatened or endangered except for the domestic cat. There’s a real conservation aspect of this work,” Driscoll pointed out. That’s because one big problem facing the world’s wild cats is their tendency to breed with feral relatives of nearby domestic cats.