Cats first tamed to catch rats in Africa
All domestic cats are descended from the African wildcat which was domesticated by the first farmers in the Near East almost 10,000 years ago, DNA analysis has shown.
The early agricultural settlements probably attracted wildcats because they were rife with rodents, experts believe.
Farmers welcomed the visitors as they kept their stocks of cereal grain free from vermin, and a new relationship between man and animal was born.
Thousands of years later cats performed the same pest control duties as they travelled from Egypt on trade ships bound for Europe and Asia.
Bones of cats with an Egyptian DNA signature have even been found at Viking sites near the Baltic Sea.
For the new study scientists extracted DNA from bones, teeth, skin and hair from more than 200 cats found at archaeological sites in the Near East, Africa and Europe dating back between 100 and 9,000 years.
Near East farmers were probably the first people to tame wildcats, before a second wave of cat domestication in ancient Egypt, said the researchers, whose findings appear in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.