Our Feline Overlords


Thousands of years before cats took up residence in 37 percent of American households, and managed to outnumber dogs by roughly 75 million across the globe, they were hopping continents with farmers, ancient mariners, and even Vikings, scientists have found.

You don’t say

Sarcastic aside:

The study was presented at the International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology in Oxford, UK last week, and sequenced DNA from 209 cats that lived between 15,000 and 3,700 years ago – so from just before the advent of agriculture right up to the 18th century.

ORLY? The 18th Century was 3700 years ago? I must have missed the part where Rousseau, Voltaire, and the American Revolution was contemporaneous with the rise of the mature palace phase on Crete and the establishment of the trading networks that defined the Late Bronze Age (the replacement of arsenic with tin to produce bronze) [/sarc] Yeah, I know, math is hard.


“We don’t know the history of ancient cats. We do not know their origin, we don’t know how their dispersal occurred,” one of the team, Eva-Maria Geigl, an evolutionary geneticist from the Institut Jacques Monod in France, told Ewen Callaway at Nature.


The first wave is a story you’re probably familiar with.

Sure we are: picture yourself in a PPNA1 (Pre Pottery Neolithic Age Phase 1) village. A cat wanders in to the center of the settlement, waits until the Elders notice, and announces “Things are going to be a bit different around here from now on.”

Do you really think that this is a modern phenomenon?

“I didn’t even know there were Viking cats,” Pontus Skoglund, a population geneticist from Harvard Medical School, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Nature.

Sigh. An introduction might be in order:

If you don’t have anything to eat, you’ll do just fine.

So, there’s an article from Nature from whence that silly mass-market article came from:


Cat populations seem to have grown in two waves, the authors found. Middle Eastern wild cats with a particular mitochondrial lineage expanded with early farming communities to the eastern Mediterranean. Geigl suggests that grain stockpiles associated with these early farming communities attracted rodents, which in turn drew wild cats. After seeing the benefit of having cats around, humans might have begun to tame these cats.



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