Saturday, June 30, 2007

Egyptians not the first to domesticate cats

BBC News By Paul Rincon
Alright, so its a bit of a stretch to include this as Egyptology , but it does indicate that domesticated cats are now known in Cyprus before they first appear in Egypt.
The oldest known evidence of people keeping cats as pets may have been found by archaeologists.

The discovery of a cat buried with what could be its owner in a Neolithic grave on Cyprus suggests domestication of cats had begun 9,500 years ago. It was thought the Egyptians were first to domesticate cats, with the earliest evidence dating to 2,000-1,900 BC.

French researchers writing in Science magazine show that the process actually began much earlier than that. The evidence comes from the Neolithic, or late stone age, village of Shillourokambos on Cyprus, which was inhabited from the 9th to the 8th millennia BC.
See the above page for more details and photographs. For those of you who have not seen it, there is a link on the above BBC web page quoted above, takes you to a January 2007 article about the 2004 discovery of a mummified lion burial in a tomb in Saqqara Egypt.

Another cat-related article appears on the HealthDay website looks at the genetic structure of cats and suggests that modern domesticates have a single ancestor in the Near East:

Based largely on the archaeological record, some experts had speculated that the domestication of the cat occurred in separate places at separate times, giving rise to distinct lineages around the world. But the new gene study tells a different tale.

"All [domestic] cats are related to one another, and they all come from the same place, and that's the Near East" Driscoll said. Today's domestic cats probably all descend from the wild cat native to the area, Felis s. lybica.

Looking much farther back into the record, Driscoll and his colleagues also discovered that the various lineages of wild cat began branching off from a common ancestor, Felis silvestris, more than 100,000 years ago -- much earlier than was originally assumed.

Thanks to David Petersen for pointing it out to me. For more on at genome research at the NCI Laboratory of Genomic Diversity.


1 comment:

kat newkirk said...

I'm not convinced the Cretan cat was a domesticate- when this was released some time back, the cat skeleton was merely 'associated' with a nearby human grave, but with no indication that it was purposely buried, or anything else to indicate more than the bare fact that a cat skeleton was found.

About the 'domesication theory'- except for the change of location, this is the way that Jaromir Malek* proposed domestication happened in AE. AFAICT, they just changed the location. AE art is full of representations of small cats, even pre-Egyptian domestication. I'm not aware of any feline art in other ANE countries except for the great cats until much later. And I'm also not aware of any small cat bones being found in ANE countries like you find in Egypt.

The genome project also had an interesting paragraph- cat's coat color. Cloning cats was fashionable (and expensive) here a few years ago- the first cloned cat had a completely different coat than its 'parent', even though the DNA was 100% identical! In coat color at least, cats are polymorphic. Cat DNA should also indicate a huge degree of sameness between animals- for organ transplants in modern domesticates, there isn't the need for elaborate tissue marking matches as in human transplants- ie you can transplant organs (usually kidneys) from one cat to another without risk of rejection syndrome or other auto-immune response.

kat newkirk

*Malek, Jaromir, _The Cat in Ancient Egypt_, University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas, c. 1993