Some 10,000 years ago, somewhere in the Near East, an audacious wild cat crept into one of the crude villages of early human settlers, the first to domesticate wheat and barley. There she felt safe from her many predators in the region, such as hyenas and larger cats, and the rodents that infested the settlersâ€™ homes and granaries were sufficient prey for her.
Seeing she was earning her keep, the settlers tolerated her, and their children greeted her kittens with delight.
At least five females, of the wildcat subspecies known as Felis silvestris lybica, accomplished this delicate transition from forest to village, scientists have concluded, based on new DNA research. And from these five matriarchs, all the worldâ€™s 600 million housecats are descended.
That’s right, scientists are now theorizing that cats and humans go back 10,000 years. That’s way before the Egyptian empire existed to immortize its felines in onyx, back to the beginnings of argiculture. I’ve always loved the notion that cats have been with us since the dawn of civilization, guarding our storehouses from the rats and mice. Maybe without these allies, the whole settling-down-and-farming thing wouldn’t have worked, and we’d still be hunter-gatherers.
There are two new finds of interest:
1) A cat was recently found buried with its human owner in Cyprus, in a 9,500-year-old grave. So they’ve been domesticated long enough.
2) Housecat mitochondrial DNA has been traced back to five original females. So the alliance may have started in a single village!