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The Truth about the Origin of the Domestic House Cat

Posted August 13, 2014 in A Vet's Life

Egyptian Cat

People and cats have a long and storied history, but where did our feline friends come from? Did they originate in ancient Egypt, where they were not only pampered, but also literally worshiped? Or are their origins even older?

Theories of domestic cat’s
For decades, many theories have existed to explain the origin of cats. Traditionally, most scholars believed that all domestic cats had a common ancestor in ancient Egypt, where cats were domesticated around 3,600 years ago. Other researchers believed that domestic cats had more than one ancestor, the result of domestication occurring at different times and places, each resulting in a distinct ancestral breed1. So what is the real answer? Fortunately, we now have newer archaeological evidence and results from genetic analysis to finally, and definitively, answer the question of where our beloved, furry felines come from.

Archaeological findings of early cats
The earliest archaeological evidence of cats and people living together comes from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. According to research published in Scientific America, and found online at catoddities.com, in 2004, Jean-Denis Vigne — from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris — discovered a 9,500 year-old burial site on the island of Cyprus. Among the assorted objects found in the grave, such as a lump of iron oxide, stone tools, and seashells, was the skeleton of an 8 month-old cat. The cat was buried in its own grave, its body oriented westward toward the setting sun, the same direction as the human remains next to it1. Since cats are not native to Mediterranean islands, the cat in the burial was obviously brought to the island by human settlers from the Levantine coast (now Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel). The inclusion of a cat in something as sacred as a burial suggests the close relationship developing between people and cats. So even though most of us think of Egypt as the origin of our domestic cats, the archaeological evidence points to an older origin from the Middle East.

Genetic testing in cats
As remarkable as the Cyprus finding was, researchers from the National Cancer Institute and the University of Oxford used their own genetic methods to trace back the origins of our domestic cats. In a study published in the July 2007 issue of the prestigious journal, Science, it was reported that the origin of the common household cat goes

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Ruth has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry as a companion animal veterinarian in private practice. Along with being a writer and media personality, she is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.

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