Around 1950 B.C.E., someone painted an unusual creature on the back wall of a limestone tomb some 250 kilometers south of Cairo.
Though these cats traveled the world with humans, they were never properly domesticated.
Who was the first person to have a cat as a pet? More than 350 ancient cat samples were collected, including from remains up to 9,000 years old.
The study couldn't determine conclusively whether the Egyptians indepedently domesticated cats, as it appears they first co-habited with humans in the Near East and Turkey.
The results show how genetic lineages moved around when cats were transported by people. They found that the striped cat was much more common in ancient times. "The cat was ideal from the beginning", said Geigl. A total of 200 cat remains from Egypt, the Middle East and Europe were analysed.
Summing up their findings, the global team of scientists, led by Belgian paleogeneticist Claudio Ottoni, wrote that "both the Near Eastern and Egyptian populations of Felis silvestris lybica contributed to the gene pool of the domestic cat at different historical times". "Scientists more or less forgot about Egypt after the Cyprus find", he says.
Not long after the early farmers migrated into Europe about 7,000 years ago, cats began showing up in sites further west, too, suggesting they followed - and were allowed to.
The team analyzed DNA from mitochondria, a structure known as the cell's powerhouse, which contains its own separate genetic code.
The new study tracked the spread of specific cat DNA markers over long distances through time, a sign that people had taken cats with them.
An worldwide team of researchers has found evidence that cats spread across the world in two different waves, a study in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution reports.
The cat's ability to keep rodents under control was one reason it was domesticated.
"From our data, we can deduce that the cat was tamed, or at least started to live with humans, in the Near East at least 6,500 years ago", Geigl said. Tabbies first showed up in southwest Asia, then spread throughout Europe and Africa.
But that's only half the story. The study presented in Nature Ecology and Evolution journal "strengthens and refines previous work", said Carlos Driscoll of the Wildlife Institute of India. Humans have been intermittently guiding cat breeding for less than 1,000 years.
Previous studies suggest that wild felines first started hanging around humans due to their habit of hunting rodents. "They turbocharged the tameness process". The second domesticated ancestry appeared in Egypt and later spread through the Mediterranean.
Still, it's unclear where these type C cats came from in the first place. "We tried to get a picture of how the distribution of wild cats occurred before taming occurred".
And those conclusions point to two lineages of domesticated cats. "This was an ideal situation for us to analyse this in the ancient DNA".
They realized that many of these cats were spreading along shipping routes. Now, a new study of cat genetics reveals that cats just kind of hung around humans for thousands of years before they were domesticated. "And this paper gives clues to how that happened".
The remains of cats have been found mummified in Egypt, in Viking graves and in various sites in the Mediterranean.
However, it was not until several thousand years later that cats really began the journey that would take them to every corner of the globe.
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