The new study shows insights into how cats moved around and became the popular pet today.
Cats have long been our furry household friends, but they led quite an adventurous life in order to get to pastures new.
A new DNA study reveals how cats made their way around as far back as the Viking era when they’d hitch a ride with the sea-faring nordics as well as farmers and sailors.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the Institut Jacques Monod in Paris led by Eva-Maria Geigl. It involved sequencing the DNA of 290 cats found in 30 different archeological sites around the world including Africa, Europe and the Middle East region. In Germany, the remains of cats were discovered in a Viking grave and were also used in the DNA study.
The results show that cats were used by humans as far back as 9,500 years ago most likely for help in agriculture and farming roles. This shows the first of two ‘waves’ of cats spreading more widely around with the second ‘wave’ happening around the time of the Ancient Egyptians where they spread over to Asia and Africa. It’s the cat’s DNA from this era that showed similarities with cats found from the Viking burial site meaning an association with the two.
The Vikings would have seen the cat’s potential as good rat and mice catchers on their boats during long voyages. This allowed cats to hitch a ride to new destinations where they bred and settled. It is thought they could well have been promoted to domestic pets due to the size of cats found which were way bigger than the average wild cat.
The study is important as little is known about the origin and spreading of cats in ancient times, comments Geigl.
“We don’t know the history of ancient cats. We do not know their origin, we don’t know how their dispersal occurred.”
The findings were presented at the International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology at Oxford University and published in the journal Nature.