Cats have been a part of human life for thousands of years. They've been alongside us for so long, it seems like they've been around forever. But of course, cats had to have come from somewhere, and researchers from every part of the globe are scrambling to figure out the fascinating history of domestic cats. Naturally, cats had as much say in their own fate as nature did, and we're glad. Because we can't imagine our feline friends evolving any other way.
All of the world's household cats can be traced back to only 5 lineages in the Fertile Crescent.
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Scientists studied the DNA of 979 feral and domestic cats, and they found surprisingly little diversity in our domestic cats. Remarkably, all breeds of domestic cat that we know today evolved from only five lineages of cats: the near eastern wildcat, the central Asian wildcat, the sub-Saharan African wildcat, and the Chinese desert cat. These original cats all lived in a relatively small area expanding from the eastern Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf known as the Fertile Crescent.
One of the scientists, Carlos Driscoll, explained, "What our work shows is that cats were not domesticated anywhere else in the world, but that they became pets for people living in the Fertile Crescent before being carried to other parts of the world by humans."
The domestic cats we know today evolved from their wilder ancestors 130,000 years ago, but domestic cats have only been traced back approximately 12,500 years, according to a report from the Guardian. Although cats are related to their more ferocious cousins, they diverted from their big-cat ancestors quite a long time ago.
Unlike other domestic animals, cats domesticated themselves, which should surprise no one.
We know that cats rarely do anything unless they want to, and that willfulness even started when it came to becoming our loyal companions. Cats began living around humans because rodents and pests were attracted to the humans' crops. Naturally, the humans noticed that cats were keeping the vermin away, and they began to purposefully keep them around.
Seeing they were so useful, humans took cats with them as they moved and explored the globe. Because cats recognized the value of their symbiotic relationship, they went along with it.
The Egyptian cat lineage became the one that dominated our modern cats.
It's well-documented that the Egyptians revered cats. The Egyptian love goddess, Bastet, had the head of a cat, and in ancient Egypt, the sentence was death if a person was convicted of killing a cat. The Egyptians also kept cats as pets because they were a highly-revered animal. It seems that these Egyptian cats are the lineage that created many of the cats we have today.
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Scientists hypothesize that Egyptian cats may have been popular because they were so highly regarded. They also speculate that Egyptian cats may have been tamer and more sociable, which made them better pets.
We're glad that cats chose us to live with and evolve with.
We wouldn't have our headstrong pets any other way!