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The Taming of the Cat

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Abstract

Genetic and archaeological findings hint that wildcats became house cats earlier—and in a different place—than previously thought
68 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN June 2009
The
T
aming of the
C
at
e v o l u t i o n
© 2009 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
www.ScientificAmerican.com SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN 69
I
t is by turns aloof and affectionate, serene
and savage, endearing and exasperating.
Despite its mercurial nature, however, the
house cat is the most popular pet in the world. A
third of American households have feline mem-
bers, and more than 600 million cats live among
humans worldw ide. Yet as fam il iar as thes e crea-
tures are, a complete understanding of their ori-
gi ns h as proved elusive. W hereas ot her once wi ld
animals were domesticated for their milk, meat,
wool or servile labor, cats con-
tribute virtually nothing
in the way of suste-
nance or work to human endeavor. How, then,
did they become commonplace xtures in our
homes?
Scholars long believed that the ancient Eg yp-
tians were the rst to keep cats as pets, starting
around 3,600 years ago. But genetic and archae-
ological discoveries made over the past five
years have revised this scenario and have gen-
erated fresh insights into both the ancestry of
the house cat and how its relationship with hu-
mans evolved.
Cat’s Cradle
The question of where house cats rst arose has
been challenging to resolve for several reasons.
Although a number of investigators suspected
that all varieties descend from just one cat spe-
ciesFelis silvestris, the wildcatthey could
not be certain. In addition, that species is
not confined to a small corner of the
globe. It is represented by populations
living throughout the Old Worldfrom
Scotland to South Africa and from Spain
to Mongoliaand until recent-
ly scientists had no way
KEY CONCEPTS
Unlike other domesticated
creatures, the house cat
contributes little to human
survival. Researchers have
therefore wondered how
and why cats came to live
among people.
Experts traditionally
thought that the Egyptians
were the rst to domesti-
cate the cat, some 3,600
years ago.
But recent genetic and
archaeological discoveries
indicate that cat domesti-
cation began in the Fertile
Crescent, perhaps around
10,000 years ago, when
agriculture was getting
under way.
The ndings suggest that
cats started making them-
selves at home around peo-
ple to take advantage of
the mice and food scraps
found in their settlements.
The Editors
Genetic and archaeological ndings hint that
wildcats became house cats earlier and
in a different placethan previously thought
By Carlos A. Driscoll, Juliet Clutton-Brock,
Andrew C. Kitchener and Stephen J. O’Brien
The
T
aming of the
C
at
© 2009 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
70 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN June 2009
jane burton Getty Images (preceding pages); tom brakefiled Getty Images (this page);
jen christiansen (illustration)
the genetic composition of wildcat groups would
vary across geography but remain stable over
time, as has occurred in many other cat species.
If regional indigenous groups of these animals
could be distinguished from one another on the
basis of their DNA and if the DNA of domestic
cats more closely resembled that of one of the
wildcat populations, then he would have clear
evidence for where domestication began.
In the genetic analysis, published in 2007,
Driscoll, another of us (O’Brien) and their col-
leagues focused on two kinds of DNA that mo-
lecular biologists traditionally examine to differ-
entiate subgroups of mammal species: DNA from
mitochondria, which is inherited exclusively
from the mother, and short, repetitive sequences
of nuclear DNA known as microsatellites. Using
established computer routines, they assessed the
ancestry of each of the 979 individuals sampled
based on their genetic signatures. Specically,
they measured how similar each cat’s DNA was
to that of all the other cats and grouped the ani-
mals having similar DNA together. They then
asked whether most of the animals in a group
lived in the same region.
The results revealed ve genetic clusters, or
lineages, of wildc ats. Fou r of these l ineages cor-
responded neatly with four of the known sub-
species of wildcat and dwelled in specic places:
F. silvestris silvestris in Europe, F. s. bieti in Chi-
na, F. s. ornata in Central Asia and F. s. cafra in
southern Africa. Thefth lineage, however, in-
cluded not only the fth known subspecies of
wildcatF. s. lybica in the M idd le E astbut also
the hundreds of domestic cats that were sampled,
including purebred and mixed-breed felines
from the U.S., the U.K. and Japan. In fact, genet-
of determining unequivocally which of these
wildcat populations gave rise to the tamer, so-
called domestic kind. Indeed, as an alternative to
the Egyptian origins hypothesis, some research-
ers had even proposed that cat domestication
occ urred i n a nu mb er of different locations , w ith
each domestication spawning a different breed.
Confounding the issue was the fact that members
of these wildcat groups are hard to tell apart from
one another and from feral domesticated cats
with so-called mackerel-tabby coats because all
of them have the same pelage pattern of curved
stripes and they interbreed freely with one anoth-
er, further blurring population boundaries.
In 2000 one of us (Driscoll) set out to tackle
the question by assembling DNA samples from
some 979 wildcats and domestic cats in south-
ern Africa, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia
and the Middle East. Because wildcats typically
defend a single territory for life, he expected that
[FINDINGS]
THE HOUSE CATS ANCESTOR
He will kill mice and he
will be kind to Babies
when he is in the house,
just as long as they do not
pull his tail too hard. But
when he has done that,
and between times, and
when the moon gets up
and night comes, he is the
Cat that walks by himself,
and all places are alike to
him. Then he goes out to
the Wet Wild Woods or
up the Wet Wild Trees or
on the Wet Wild Roofs,
waving his wild tail and
walking by his wild lone.
Rudyard Kipling,
The Cat That Walked by Himself
F. s. lybica
F. s. ornata
F. s. cafra
F. s. silvestris
F. s. bieti
Historic distribution
F. s. lybica
Researchers examined DNA belonging to
nearly 1,000 wildcats and domestic cats from
across the Old World to determine which
subspecies of the wildcat, Felis silvestris, gave
rise to the house cat. They found that the
DNA clustered into ve groups, based on
similarity of sequence, and noted that the
wildcats within each group came from the
same region of the world (map). The domestic
cats, however, grouped only with F. silvestris
lybica, the Middle Eastern wildcat (photo-
graph). This result established that all domes-
tic cats are descended from F. s. lybica alone
(family tree).
Sand cat
F. margarita
(closest living relative of F. silvestris)
Chinese mountain cat
F. s. bieti
Southern African wildcat
F. s. cafra
Middle Eastern wildcat
Felis silvestris lybica
and domestic cats
European wildcat
F. s. silvestris
Central Asian wildcat
F. s. ornata
© 2009 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
www.ScientificAmerican.com SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN 71
source: “early taming of the cat in cyprus,” by j.-d. Vigne, j. guilaine, k. debue, l. haye and p. gérard, in SCIENCE, Vol. 304; april 2004
dates for domestication. The ancestors of most
domesticated animals lived in herds or packs
with clear dominance hierarchies. (Humans
unwittingly took advantage of this structure by
supplanting the alpha individual, thus facilitat-
ing control of entire cohesive groups.) These herd
animals were already accustomed to living cheek
by jowl, so provided that food and shelter were
plentiful, they adapted easily to connement.
Cat s, in contrast , are sol itar y hunters that de-
fend their home ranges ercely from other cats
of the same sex (the pride-living lions are the ex-
ception to this rule). Moreover, whereas most
domesticates feed on widely available plant
foods, cats are obligate carnivores, meaning
they have a limited ability to digest anything but
meata far rarer menu item. In fact, they have
lost the ability to taste sweet carbohydrates alto-
gether. And as to utility to humans, let us just say
cats do not take instruction well. Such attributes
suggest that whereas other domesticates were re-
cruited from the wild by humans who bred them
for specic tasks, cats most likely chose to live
among humans because of opportunities they
found for themselves.
Early settlements in the Fertile Crescent be-
tween 9,000 and 10,000 years ago, during the
Neolithic period, created a completely new envi-
ronment for any wild animals that were suf-
ciently exible and inquisitive (or scared and
hungry) to exploit it. The house mouse, Mus
musculus domesticus, was one such creature. A r-
ically, F. s. lybica wildcats collected in remote
deserts of Israel, the United Arab Emirates and
Saudi Arabia were virtually indistinguishable
from domestic cats. That the domestic cats
grouped with F. s. lybica alone among wildcats
meant that domestic cats arose in a single locale,
the Middle East, and not in other places where
wildcats are common.
Once we had gured out where house cats
came from, the next step was to ascertain when
they had become domesticated. Geneticists can
often estimate when a particular evolutionary
event occurred by studying the quantity of ran-
dom genetic mutations that accumulate at a
steady rate over time. But this so-called molecu-
lar clock ticks a mite too slowly to precisely date
events as recent as the past 10,0 0 0 yea rs, t he like -
ly interval for cat domestication. To get a bead on
when the taming of the cat began, we turned to
the archaeological record. One recent nd has
proved especially informative in this regard.
In 2004 Jean-Denis Vigne of the National
Museum of Natural History in Paris and his col-
leagues reported unearthing the earliest evi-
dence suggestive of humans keeping cats as pets.
The d iscover y come s f rom the Med iterra nean is-
land of Cyprus, where 9,500 years ago an adult
human of unknown gender was laid to rest in a
shallow g rave. A n assortment of items accompa-
nied the bodystone tools, a lump of iron oxide,
a handful of seashells and, in its own tiny grave
just 40 centimeters away, an eight-month-old
cat, its body oriented in the same westward di-
rection as the human’s.
Because cats are not native to most Mediter-
ranean islands, we know that people must have
brought them over by boat, probably from the
adjacent Levantine coast. Together the trans-
port of cats to the island and the burial of the
human with a cat indicate that people had a spe-
cial, intentional relationship with cats nearly
10,000 years ago in the Middle East. This locale
is consistent with the geographic origin we ar-
rived at through our genetic analyses. It ap-
pears, then, that cats were being tamed just as
humankind was establishing the rst settle-
ments in the part of the Middle East known as
the Fertile Crescent.
A Cat and Mouse Game?
With the geography and an approximate age of
the initial phases of cat domestication estab-
lished, we could begin to revisit the old question
of why cats and humans ever developed a special
relationship. Cats in general are unlikely candi-
EARLY DOMESTICATION: Tradition-
ally the ancient Egyptians have
been credited with domesticat-
ing the cat by roughly 3,600
years ago. But in 2004 archaeol-
ogists working on the Mediter-
ranean island of Cyprus discov-
ered a 9,500-year-old burial of
an adult human and a cat (cir-
cled in photograph, left, and
map, below). Because cats are
not native to Cyprus, people
must have brought them over by
boat, probably from the nearby
Levant. Thend thus suggests
that people in the Middle East
began keeping cats as pets long
before the Egyptians did.
© 2009 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
stephen dalton Photo Researchers, Inc. (mouse); the israel museum, jerusalem (statuette);
the british museum (mummy); daVe king Getty Images (Siamese); helmi flick (British Shorthair)
72 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN June 2009
Researchers believe, based on archaeological and historic records, that the transformation of
the Middle Eastern wildcat into a ubiquitous pet transpired over thousands of years.
10,5009,500 YEARS AGO
House mouse remains preserved with human
stores of grain in Israel; origin of agriculture
and of permanent human settlements creates
opportunities for cats willing to get close
enough to humans to hunt house mice
9,500 YEARS AGO Human and cat
double burial on Mediterranean island of
Cyprus; earliest evidence of special relation-
ship between people and cats
3,700 YEARS AGO Ivory cat
statuette sculpted in Israel; suggests cats were
a common sight around human settlements
in the Fertile Crescent
3,600 YEARS AGO Artists paint
domesticated cats from Thebes, Egypt; oldest
clear evidence of fully domesticated cat
2,900 YEARS AGO Cats become
ofcial deityof Egypt in the form of
the goddess Bastet; huge number of cats
sacriced and mummied in her sacred city
indicates that Egyptians were breeding
domestic cats
2,300 YEARS AGO The height of
cat worship in Egypt; the Ptolemeic rulers
maintain strict bans on the export of cats
2,000 YEARS AGO Cat remains
preserved at the German site of Tofting in
Schleswig and increasing references to cats in
art and literature show that domestic cats
were common throughout Europe
13501767 The Tamara Maew (or
Cat-Book Poems”), composed by Buddhist
monks in Thailand, describes indigenous
natural breeds, such as the Siamese, which
arose largely through genetic drift, as
opposed to human intervention
1800s Most of the modern breeds
developed in the British Isles, according to
writings of English natural history artist
Harrison Weir
1871 Cat show at the Crystal Palace
in London isrst to include human-
created breeds
2006 First hypoallergenic cat, created
by Allerca
chaeologists have found remains of this rodent,
which originated in the Indian subcontinent,
among therst human stores of wild grain from
Israel, which date to around 10,000 years ago.
The house mice could not compete well with the
local wild mice outside, but by moving into peo-
ple’s homes and silos, they thrived.
It is almost certainly the case that these house
mice attracted cats. But the trash heaps on the
outskirts of town were probably just as great a
draw, providing year-round pickings for those fe-
lines resourceful enough to seek them out. Both
these food sources would have encouraged cats
to ad apt to livi ng w it h p eople; in the li ngo of evo-
lutionary biology, natural selection favored those
cats that were able to cohabitate with humans
and thereby gain access to the trash and mice.
Over time, wildcats more tolerant of living in
human-dominated environments began to pro-
liferate in villages throughout the Fertile Cres-
cent . S election i n t his new niche would have been
principally for tameness, but competition among
cats would also have continued to inuence their
evolution and limit how pliant they became. Be-
cause these protodomestic cats were undoubt-
edly mostly left to fend for themselves, their hunt-
ing and scavenging skills remained sharp. Even
today most domesticated cats are free agents that
can easily survive independently of humans, as
evinced by the plethora of feral cats in cities,
towns and countrysides the world over.
Considering that small cats do little obvious
harm, people probably did not mind their com-
pany. They might have even encouraged the cats
to stick around when they saw them dispatching
mice and snakes. Cats may have held other ap-
peal, too. Some experts speculate that wildcats
just so happened to possess features that might
have preadapted them to developing a relation-
ship with people. In particular, these cats have
cute” featureslarge eyes, a snub face and a
high, round forehead, among othersthat are
known to elicit nurturing from humans. In all
likelihood, then, some people took kittens home
simply because they found them adorable and
tamed them, giving cats a rst foothold at the
human hearth.
Why was F. s. lybica the only subspecies of
wild cat to be domesticated? Anecdotal evidence
suggests that certain other subspecies, such as the
European wildcat and the Chinese mountain cat,
are less tolerant of people. If so, this trait alone
could have precluded their adoption into homes.
The friendlier southern African and Central
Asian wildcats, on the other hand, might very
[TIMELINE]
FROM WILD TO MILD
© 2009 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
www.ScientificAmerican.com SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN 73
jen christiansen
logical evidence affords some insight into the
process. After the Cypriot nd, the next oldest
hints of an association between humans and cats
are a feline molar tooth from an archaeological
deposit in Israel dating to roughly 9,000 years
ago and another tooth from Pakistan dating to
around 4,000 years ago.
Testament to full domestication comes from
a much later period. A nearly 3,700-year-old
ivory cat statuette from Israel suggests the cat
was a common sight around homes and villages
in the Fertile Crescent before its introduction to
Egypt. This scenario makes sense, given that all
the other domestic animals (except the donkey)
and plants were introduced to the Nile Valley
from the Fertile Crescent. But it is Egyptian
paintings from the so-called New Kingdom pe-
riodEgypt’s golden era, which began nearly
3,60 0 years ago that provide the oldest known
unmistakable depictions of full domestication.
These paintings typically show cats poised un-
der chairs, sometimes collared or tethered, and
often eating from bowls or feeding on scraps.
The abundance of these illustrations signies
that cats had become common members of
Egyptian households by this time.
It is in large part as a result of evocative im-
age s such as the se t hat s cholars t rad itionally per-
ceived ancient Egypt as the locus of cat domesti-
cation. Even the oldest Egy pt ian repre sent ations
of wildcats are 5,000 to 6,000 years younger
well have become domesticated under the right
conditions. But F. s. lybica had the advantage of
a head start by virtue of its proximity to the rst
settlements. As agriculture spread out from the
Fertile Crescent, so, too, did the tame scions of
F. s. lybica, lling the same niche in each region
they enteredand effectively shutting the door
on local wildcat populations. Had domestic cats
from the Near East never arrived in Africa or
Asia, perhaps the indigenous wildcats in those re-
gions would have been drawn to homes and vil-
lages as urban civilizations developed.
Rise of the Goddess
We do not know how long the transformation of
the Middle Eastern wildcat into an affectionate
home companion took. Animals can be domes-
ticated quite rapidly under controlled condi-
tions. In one famous experiment, begun in 1959,
Russian scientists using highly selective breeding
produced tame silver foxes from wild ones in just
40 years. But without doors or windowpanes,
Neolithic farmers would have been hard-pressed
to cont rol the breeding of cats even if they wa nt-
ed to. It seems reasonable to suggest that the lack
of human inuence on breeding and the proba-
ble intermixing of house cats and wildcats mili-
tated against rapid taming, causing the meta-
morphosis to occur over thousands of years.
Although the exact timeline of cat domestica-
tion remains uncertain, long-known archaeo-
[THE AUTHORS]
Carlos A. Driscoll is a member of
the University of Oxford’s Wildlife
Conservation Research Unit and
the Laboratory of Genomic Diversi-
ty at the National Cancer Institute
(NCI). In 2007 he published the rst
DNA-based family tree of Felis
silvestris, the species to which
the domestic cat belongs.
Juliet Clutton-Brock, founder
of the International Council for
Archaeozoology, is a pioneer in the
study of domestication and early
agriculture. Andrew C. Kitchener
is principal curator of mammals
and birds at National Museums
Scotland, where he studies geo-
graphical variation and hybridiza-
tion in mammals and birds.
Stephen J. O’Brien is chief of
the NCI’s Laboratory of Genomic
Diversity. He has studied the
genetics of cheetahs, lions, orang-
utans, pandas, humpback whales
and HIV. This is his fth article for
Scientic American.
As agriculture and permanent human settlements spread from the Fertile Crescent to the rest of the world, so, too, did domestic cats.
The map below shows the earliest putative occurrences of house cats in regions around the globe.
[DISPERSAL]
HAVE CATS, WILL TRAVEL
BRITAIN:
2,100 years ago?
GERMANY:
2,000 years ago
CYPRUS:
9,500 years ago
AMERICAS:
500 years ago?
EGYPT:
3,600 years ago
GREECE:
2,500 years ago
ISRAEL:
9,000 years ago
INDIA:
2,000 years ago
CHINA:
2,000 years ago
AUSTRALIA:
400 years ago?
9,500 years ago
Present
PAKISTAN:
4,000 years ago
© 2009 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
British Isles before the Romans brought them
overa dispersal that researchers cannot yet
explain.)
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the globe,
domestic cats had presumably spread to the Ori-
ent almost 2,000 years ago, along well-estab-
lished trade routes between Greece and Rome
and the Far East, reaching China by way of Mes-
opotamia and arriving in India via land and sea.
Then something interesting happened. Because
no native wildcats with which the newcomers
cou ld interbreed lived i n t he Far E ast, the Orien-
tal domestic cats soon began evolving along
their own trajectory. Small, isolated groups of
Oriental domestics gradually acquired distinc-
tive coat colors and other mutations through a
process known as genetic drift, in which traits
that are neither benecial nor maladaptive be-
come xed in a population.
This drift led to the emergence of the Korat,
the Siamese, the Birman and other “natural
breeds, which were described by Thai Buddhist
monks in a book called the Tamara Maew
(meaning “Cat-Book Poems”) that may date
back to 1350. The putative antiquity of these
breeds received support from the results of ge-
netic studies announced last year, in which Mar-
ilyn Menotti-Raymond of the National Cancer
Institute and Leslie Lyons of the University of
than the 9,500-year-old Cypriot burial, howev-
er. Although ancient Egyptian culture cannot
claim initial domestication of the cat among its
many achievements, it surely played a pivotal
role in subsequently molding the domestication
dynamic and spreading cats throughout the
world. Indeed, the Egyptians took the love of
cats to a whole new level. By 2,900 years ago the
domestic cat had become the ofcial deity of
Egypt in the form of the goddess Bastet, and
house cats were sacriced, mummied and bur-
ied in great numbers at Bastets sacred city,
Bubastis. Measured by the ton, the sheer num-
ber of cat mummies found there indicates that
Egyptians were not just harvesting feral or wild
populations but, for the rst time in history,
were actively breeding domestic cats.
Egypt ofcially prohibited the export of their
venerated cats for centuries. Nevertheless, by
2, 500 years ago the animals had made their way
to Greece, proving the inefcacy of export bans.
Later, grain ships sailed directly from Alexandria
to destinations throughout the Roman Empire,
and cats are certain to have been onboard to keep
the rats in check. Thus introduced, cats could
have established colonies in port cities and then
fanned out from there. By 2,000 years ago, when
the Romans were expanding their empire, do-
mestic cats were traveling with them and becom-
ing common throughout Europe. Evidence for
their spread comes from t he G erm an site of Tof t-
ing in Schleswig, which dates to between the 4th
and 10th centuries, as well as increasing referenc-
es to cats in art and literature from that period.
(Oddly, domestic cats seem to have reached the
Saving the
ScottiSh
Wildcat
As the northernmost representative
of the European wildcat, the Scottish
wildcat lives under environmental
and climatic conditions unlike those
experienced by any other wildcat. It
is also critically endangered, thanks
to interbreeding with feral domestic
cats. According to the latest rough
estimate, perhaps only 400 pure
Scottish wildcats survive. But
sorting the Scottish feline from
hybrids and domestic cats is challeng-
ing because they all look so similar.
To that end, the authors recently
discovered a unique genetic signature
of the Scottish wildcat that permits
precise identication. This develop-
ment will facilitate implementation
of legal protection of this creature.
74 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN June 2009
The Truth about Cats and Dogs
U
nlike dogs, which exhibit a huge range of sizes, shapes and temperaments, house cats are
relatively homogeneous, differing mostly in the characteristics of their coats. The reason for
the relative lack of variability in cats is simple: humans have long bred dogs to assist with particular
tasks, such as hunting or sled pulling, but cats, which lack any inclination for performing most tasks
that would be useful to humans, experienced no such selective breeding pressures.
gandee Vasan Getty Images (cats); tim flach Getty Images (dogs)
© 2009 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
© 2009 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
www.ScientificAmerican.com SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN 75
courtesy of kathrin stucki A1 Savannahs
The wide range of sizes, shapes and tempera-
ments seen in dogsconsider the Chihuahua
and Great Daneis absent in cats. Felines show
much less variety because, unlike dogswhich
starting in prehistoric times were bred for such
tasks as guarding, hunting and herdingwild-
cats were under no such selective breeding pres-
sures. To enter our homes, they had only to
evolve a people-friendly disposition.
So are today’s cats truly domesticated? Well,
yesbut perhaps only just. A lthough they satis-
fy the criterion of tolerating people, most domes-
tic cats are feral and do not rely on people to feed
them or to nd them mates. And whereas other
domesticates, like dogs, look quite distinct from
their wild ancestors, the average domestic cat
largely retains the wild body plan. It does exhibit
a few morphological differences, however
namely, slightly shorter legs, a smaller brain and,
as Charles Darwin noted, a longer intestine,
which may have been an adaptation to scaveng-
ing kitchen scraps.
The house cat has not stopped evolving,
thoughfar from it. Armed with articial in-
semination and in vitro fertilization technology,
cat breeders today are pushing domestic cat ge-
netics into uncharted territory: they are hybrid-
izing house cats with other felid species to create
exotic new breeds. The Bengal and the Caracat,
for example, resulted from crossing the house
cat with the Asian leopard cat and the caracal,
respectively. The domestic cat may thus be on
the verge of an unprecedented and radical evolu-
tion i nto a multispecies composite whose f utu re
can only be imagined.
STILL EVOLVING: The mating of house cats with exotic species of cats is revolution-
izing domestic cat genetics. The photograph above depicts a Savannah, the result
of crossing a domestic cat with a Serval.
California, Davis, found DNA differences be-
tween today’s European and Oriental domestic
cat breeds indicative of more than 700 years of
independent cat breeding in Asia and Europe.
As to when house cats reached the Americas,
little is known. Christopher Columbus and oth-
er seafarers of his day reportedly carried cats
with them on transatlantic voyages. And voyag-
ers onboard the Mayower and residents of
Jamestown are said to have brought cats with
them to control vermin and to bring good luck.
How house cats got to Au stralia is even murkier,
although researchers presume that they arrived
with European explorers in the 1600s. Our
group at the U.S. National Institutes of Health
is tackling the problem using DNA.
Breeding for Beauty
Although humans might have played some
minor role in the development of the natural
breeds in the Orient, concerted efforts to pro-
duce novel breeds did not begin until relatively
recently. Even the Egyptians, who we know were
breeding cats extensively, do not seem to have
been selecting for visible traits, probably because
distinctive variants had not yet arisen: in their
paintings, both wildcats and house cats are
depicted as having the same mackerel-tabby
coat. Experts believe that most of the modern
breeds were developed in the British Isles in the
19th century, based on the writings of English
natural history artist Harrison Weir. And in
1871 the rst proper fancy cat breedsbreeds
created by humans to achieve a particular
appearancewere displayed at a cat show held
at the Crystal Palace in London (a Persian won,
although the Siamese was a sensation).
Today the Cat Fancier’s Association and the
International Cat Association recognize nearly
60 breeds of domestic cat. Just a dozen or so
genes account for the differences in coat color,
fur length and texture, as well as other, subtler
coat characteristics, such as shading and shim-
mer, among these breeds.
Thanks to the sequencing of the entire ge-
nome of an Abyssinian cat named Cinnamon
in 2007, geneticists are rapidly identifying the
mutations that produce such traits as tabby
patterning, black, white and orange coloring,
long hair and many others. Beyond differences
in the pelage-related genes, however, the genetic
variation between domestic cat breeds is very
slightcomparable to that seen between adja-
cent human populations, such as the French and
the Italians.
More to
explore
Cats: Ancient and Modern.
Juliet Clutton-Brock. Harvard
University Press, 1993.
The Natural History of the Wild
Cats. Andrew Kitchener. Cornell
University Press, Comstock Publishing
Associates, 1997.
A Natural History of Domesticated
Mammals. Second edition. Juliet
Clutton-Brock. Cambridge University
Press, Natural History Museum, 1999.
The Near Eastern Origin of Cat
Domestication. Carlos A. Driscoll
et al. in Science, Vol. 317, pages
519523; 2007.
Patterns of Molecular Genetic
Variation among Cat Breeds.
Marilyn Menotti-Raymond et al.
in Genomics, Vol. 91, No. 1,
pages 1–11; 2008.
© 2009 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
... Domesticated otherthanhuman animals have lost the ability to thrive without the food, care, and protection provided by humans. This does not fit what we know of cats, who until recent decades have maintained a high degree of autonomy regarding their diet, movement, and reproduction (Driscoll et al. 2009;Hu et al. 2014). ...
... The house mouse (Mus musculus) is one example. Rather than competing with the mice population who remained living apart from humans, the ancestors of this rodent found a unique niche and thrived by moving into human homes and silos (Driscoll et al. 2009;Krajcarz et al. 2020). It is widely believed the ancestral wildcats were first attracted by the rodents pillaging human grain stores, and subsequently encouraged because they controlled the rodent populations (Bradshaw 2013;Driscoll et al. 2009). ...
... Rather than competing with the mice population who remained living apart from humans, the ancestors of this rodent found a unique niche and thrived by moving into human homes and silos (Driscoll et al. 2009;Krajcarz et al. 2020). It is widely believed the ancestral wildcats were first attracted by the rodents pillaging human grain stores, and subsequently encouraged because they controlled the rodent populations (Bradshaw 2013;Driscoll et al. 2009). Refuse heaps that inevitably grew on the outskirts of human towns provided year-round pickings to resourceful felines. ...
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The language of domestication enables humans to wield power over otherthanhuman animal lives. In some cases, being labelled “domesticated” ensures a life free of worry regarding food, water, and shelter. In others, “domestication” embodies a loss of agency, wildness, and potentially life. Companion animals such as cats find themselves at the center of debates regarding their freedom, reproductive agency, and even their status as domesticates. Others, such as captive elephants, are trapped in liminal spaces by virtue of their labels — “endangered,” “domesticated,” “tamed,” or simply “livestock.” As humans venture further into the world of biotech, these labels become increasingly opaque. With the introduction of hybrid xenobots, transgenic organisms grown of various stem cells, and machine-implanted, sentient species built to serve various functions, we are facing the potential that the word domestication will be again transformed allowing humans to further control the future of otherthanhuman bodies. tient beings they did act in ways the trainers could not predict or control. In so doing, in all cases but refusal to attack they contributed to the excitement of events, and in the case of the elephants of the 55BCE games, even caused the normally hostile spectators to empathize with their plight. When Roman spectators or writers attributed human-like traits to animals who did extraordinary things they tacitly acknowledged animal agency, but this was not transformed into any general acceptance that animals might have any moral sense or cognitive abilities comparable in any way to humans.
... In a relatively brief period of evolutionary time, the domestic cat has transitioned from a wild solitary species to one of the most popular companion animals globally. During their initial domestication (from wild populations of F. silvestris lybica [1]), natural selection pressures are likely to have favoured bolder individuals, as well those with a greater tolerance to human and conspecific proximity [2]. Subsequently, as the value of cats as a source of human companionship increased, a degree of active selection by humans for cat tractability likely followed [3]. ...
... Compared with their early domesticates, however, modern-day companion cats are likely to experience more socially complex and potentially challenging cat-caregiver dynamics [23,37,66,130]. Despite this, it is unclear whether much active selection for traits that enhance successful adaption to modern human-social relationships and domestic living have been undertaken [2]. For example, in domestic dogs, genetic signatures suggestive of intense selection for prosocial traits such as those associated with enhanced responsiveness towards humans, attention-seeking, and initiation of prolonged social contact are evident [131][132][133]. ...
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Sociality can be broadly defined as the ability and tendency of individuals to reside in social groups with either conspecifics and/or other species. More specifically, sociability relates to the ability and tendency of individuals to display affiliative behaviours in such contexts. The domestic cat is one of the most globally popular companion animals and occupies a diverse range of lifestyles. Despite an arguably short period of domestication from an asocial progenitor, the domestic cat demonstrates an impressive capacity for both intra- and interspecific sociality and sociability. At the same time, however, large populations of domestic cats maintain various degrees of behavioural and reproductive autonomy and are capable of occupying solitary lifestyles away from humans and/or conspecifics. Within social groups, individuals can also vary in their tendency to engage in both affiliative and agonistic interactions, and this interindividual variation is present within free-living populations as well as those managed in confined environments by humans. Considerable scientific enquiry has focused on cats’ social behaviour towards humans (and conspecifics to a much lesser extent) in this latter context. Ontogeny and human selection, in addition to a range of proximate factors including social and environmental parameters and individual cat and human characteristics, have been highlighted as important moderators of cats’ sociability. Such factors may have important consequences regarding individuals’ adaptability to the diverse range of lifestyles that they may occupy. Where limitations to individuals’ social capacities do not enable sufficient e.g. adaption, compromises to their wellbeing may occur. This is most pertinent for cats managed by humans, given that the physical and social parameters of the cats’ environment are primarily dictated by people, but that positive human-selection for traits that enhance cats’ adaptability to such lifestyles appears to be limited. However, limitations in the availability and quality of evidence and equivocal findings may impede the current understanding of the role of certain factors in relation to cat sociability and associations with cat wellbeing, although such literature gaps also present important opportunities for further study. This review aims to summarise what is currently known about the various factors that may influence domestic cats’ sociality and sociability towards both humans and conspecifics, with a predominant focus on cats managed by humans in confined environments. Current limitations, knowledge gaps, and implications for cat wellbeing are also discussed.
... Perhaps it is doubtful that early agricultural communities would have selected the wildcat as a pet (Driscoll et al., 2009b). Cats may have lived in human environments, being only tolerated by the humans and not directly interacting with them, and gradually diverged from their ancestors (Driscoll, Clutton-Brock;Kitchener & , 2009a). ...
... Perhaps it is doubtful that early agricultural communities would have selected the wildcat as a pet (Driscoll et al., 2009b). Cats may have lived in human environments, being only tolerated by the humans and not directly interacting with them, and gradually diverged from their ancestors (Driscoll, Clutton-Brock;Kitchener & , 2009a). ...
Thesis
http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/2027.42/79456/1/kerei.pdf
... Portanto, há poucos indícios que sugerem que populações agrícolas primitivas tenham selecionado gatos selvagens como animais de estimação (Driscoll et al. 2009a). Em vez disso, é mais provável que os gatos que exploravam ambientes humanos tenham sido tolerados pelas pessoas e, ao longo do tempo, tenham gradualmente divergido de seus parentes selvagens (Driscoll et al. 2009b). Isso pode ter ocorrido porque os gatos selvagens se aproximavam de ambientes humanos atraídos por áreas infestadas por ratos (Lear & Harris 2012). ...
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A domesticação é um processo evolutivo que, a partir da seleção feita pelos seres humanos para atender aos seus interesses, propiciou modificações genéticas em plantas e animais selvagens. As plantas e os animais domesticados apresentam características que os diferenciam dos seus ancestrais selvagens. Por um lado, algumas características fenotípicas conferiram vantagens adaptativas às espécies domesticadas para a ocupação de ambientes modificados e dominados pelos humanos. Por outro lado, a domesticação causou a perda de características essenciais para a sobrevivência dessas espécies em seu ambiente selvagem. Assim, neste capítulo, apresenta-se uma discussão acerca de como a domesticação de plantas e animais, provavelmente, ocorreu, constituindo um grande marco para o Antropoceno.
... Indeed, the diversity of words representing the same things in different languages signifies that the association between the signifier and the signified is indeed arbitrary (Dofs, 2008). Variety of meaning might be possible, as one signified can have several signifiers, and vice versa, leading to the notion of ambiguity in language (Driscoll et al., 2009). Arbitrariness made it possible for humans to develop more complex languages than animals, as it is easier to learn the sound-pairs of a given language that can be combined in several ways, than to develop an inherent system for communication in numerous diverse contexts (Klages, 2001). ...
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Onomatopoeia—the imitation of natural sounds—is a common phenomenon in human language, though imitations of the same sounds might appear different cross-linguistically. It is true that onomatopoeia is not like ordinary language, but how does it differ from natural vocalisation? While the distinction between onomatopoeia and ordinary language has received ample treatment, its difference from natural sounds have so far received less attention from linguistics. This study aims to investigate the phonetic differences between onomatopoeic cat sounds in ten languages and natural cat vocalisations. The findings show some segmental and phonotactical distinctions due to the direct representation of these words regarding their meanings, which clearly indicates that this phenomenon in world languages is not arbitrary and offers strong evidence of iconicity. While arbitrariness is the norm in human language and has an essential impact on language development, there are clearly some nonarbitrary aspects of human language, and onomatopoeia is notable among them.
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Reduced brain size, compared with wild individuals, is argued to be a key characteristic of domesticated mammal species, and often cited as a key component of a putative ‘domestication syndrome’. However, brain size comparisons are often based on old, inaccessible literature and in some cases drew comparisons between domestic animals and wild species that are no longer thought to represent the true progenitor species of the domestic species in question. Here we replicate studies on cranial volumes in domestic cats that were published in the 1960s and 1970s, comparing wildcats, domestic cats and their hybrids. Our data indicate that domestic cats indeed, have smaller cranial volumes (implying smaller brains) relative to both European wildcats ( Felis silvestris ) and the wild ancestors of domestic cats, the African wildcats ( Felis lybica ), verifying older results. We further found that hybrids of domestic cats and European wildcats have cranial volumes that cluster between those of the two parent species. Apart from replicating these studies, we also present new data on palate length in Felis cat skulls, showing that domestic cat palates are shorter than those of European wildcats but longer than those of African wildcats. Our data are relevant to current discussions of the causes and consequences of the ‘domestication syndrome’ in domesticated mammals.
Chapter
This chapter discusses the history of the relationship between people and animals. A discussion of the evolution of animal-assisted interventions includes early interventions by famous historical figures such as Florence Nightingale and Sigmund Freud. The chapter concludes with current research that is being conducted in HAB.
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Predation of wildlife by domestic cats Felis catus presents a threat to biodiversity conservation in some ecological contexts. The proportions of wild prey captured and eaten by domestic cats and thus the contributions of wild prey to cat diets are hard to quantify. This limits the understanding of any impacts of cats may have on wild animal populations and confounds analyses of the effects of interventions aimed at reducing wildlife killing. We used stable isotope analyses to quantify the relative contributions of wild and provisioned foods to the diets of domestic cats kept as companion animals and which frequently captured wild prey. We tested the effects of treatments aimed at reducing killing upon stable isotope ratios of cat whiskers and, where treatments had significant effects, we estimated variation in the contributions of wild prey to cats’ diets before and during treatment. We evaluated bells, Birdsbesafe collar covers, provision of food in a “puzzle feeder,” provision of food in which meat was the principal source of protein, object play, and a control group. As expected, cat diets consisted primarily of provisioned foods, though the contribution of wild animals to the diets of these cats, all of which regularly caught wild animals, was low (cat food ˜96%, wild animals ˜3–4%). Compared to the pre‐treatment period and control group, cats with a Birdsbesafe collar cover exhibited a significant reduction in nitrogen stable isotope ratios in their whiskers and consumed less wild prey, most likely attributable to effective inhibition of hunting, particularly for birds. Fitting cats with a Birdsbesafe collar cover, therefore, reduced both returns of wild birds and consumption of wild prey. While multiple interventions can significantly affect the numbers of wild animals that cats capture and return home, the remarkably small dietary contributions made by wild animal prey mean dietary change is harder to discern. Domestic cats rely almost exclusively on food provided by people, even when they frequently kill wild animals. This suggests that the hunting behavior of domestic cats may be driven by behavioral motivations, or by a need to address micronutrient requirements, but is unlikely to alter macronutrient intake.
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The purpose of this paper is to make general educated readers aware of, how we humans interacted with domestic animals. This paper neither provides an in-depth history of archaeozoological research in the Indian subcontinent nor gives fundamentals of archaeozoological methods. Here we intend to indicate probable developments of animal husbandry in India. Our intention is also to give the reader an impression and understanding of the changing human relation with animals and the long-term and far-reaching consequences thereof for human society. However, at the outset, it is important to draw reader’s attention to one very important point namely the paucity of information. Constrained by the handicap, we had to be content with whatever information we could gather from various sources.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.