Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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Cats Conquered the World along with Humans, says DNA Analysis

Rat killer

(Photo : Getty Images) Viking cat

The first comprehensive DNA study about how cats conquered the world discovered these lovable or pesky (take your pick) felines hitched rides on Viking longships and rickety merchant ships to spread around the world.

A team led by evolutionary geneticist Eva-Maria Geigl from the Institut Jacques Monod in Paris presented the first comprehensive study of the spread of felines through history.

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Their new analysis into ancient feline DNA, the first of its kind, shows cats spread around the world in two waves in which cats were either stowaways or pets on Viking longships that traversed Europe, and might even have made it to North America. The role of "Viking cats" on these far-reaching ships: rat control, what else?

The in-depth study found the emergence of agriculture and boat travel helped trigger the domestication and proliferation of house cats. It was presented at the International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology at Oxford University and reported by the journal Nature.

Significant data was derived from a 9,500-year-old human burial from Cyprus that also contained the remains of a cat. This suggests some form of relationship between cats and humans this long ago.

Geigl and her colleagues analyzed the mitochondrial DNA of 209 domestic cats found at 30 archeological sites in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The cats lived from the dawn of agriculture through the 18th century.

What researchers found is cats spread in two waves. The first wave occurred when agriculture first appeared in the eastern Mediterranean and Turkey, where wild ancestors of domestic cats lives.

Geigl suggests that stored grain likely attracted rodents. These rodents, in turn, likely attracted wild cats. Early farmers may have seen the advantages of having cats control the rodens, eventually leading to domestic cat breeds.

The second wave happened several thousand years later. The team discovered that cats with a mitochondrial lineage from Egypt began appearing in Bulgaria, Turkey and sub-Saharan Africa between the fourth century BC and the fourth century AD.

The team believes sailors used cats on ships to control rodents, spreading the felines to port cities during trading missions. A cat with the Egyptian mitochondrial DNA was found in a Viking site in North Germany dating between 700 and 1000 AD.

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