Cats first tamed to catch rats in Africa

The Scotsman - - Around Scotland - By JOHN VON RAD­OWITZ

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.

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