View Full Version : The Origin of Cats

June 30th, 2007, 12:09 AM
June 29, 2007
Study Traces Cat’s Ancestry to Middle East

Wildcats are divided into five subspecies: the European wildcat, the Near Eastern wildcat, the Southern African wildcat, the Central Asian wildcat and the Chinese desert cat. This wildcat was photographed in Africa.

Some 10,000 years ago, somewhere in the Near East, an audacious wildcat 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.

The rodents that infested the settlers’ homes and granaries were sufficient prey. Seeing that 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. And from these five matriarchs all the world’s 600 million house cats are descended.

A scientific basis for this scenario has been established by Carlos A. Driscoll of the National Cancer Institute and his colleagues. He spent more than six years collecting species of wildcat in places as far apart as Scotland, Israel, Namibia and Mongolia. He then analyzed the DNA of the wildcats and of many house cats and fancy cats.

Five subspecies of wildcat are distributed across the Old World. They are known as the European wildcat, the Near Eastern wildcat, the Southern African wildcat, the Central Asian wildcat and the Chinese desert cat. Their patterns of DNA fall into five clusters. The DNA of all house cats and fancy cats falls within the Near Eastern wildcat cluster, making clear that this subspecies is their ancestor, Dr. Driscoll and his colleagues said in a report published Thursday on the Web site of the journal Science.

The wildcat DNA closest to that of house cats came from 15 individuals collected in the deserts of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the researchers say. The house cats in the study fell into five lineages, based on analysis of their mitochondrial DNA, a type that is passed down through the female line. Since the oldest archaeological site with a cat burial is about 9,500 years old, the geneticists suggest that the founders of the five lineages lived around this time and were the first cats to be domesticated.

Wheat, rye and barley had been domesticated in the Near East by 10,000 years ago, so it seems likely that the granaries of early Neolithic villages harbored mice and rats, and that the settlers welcomed the cats’ help in controlling them.

Unlike other domestic animals, which were tamed by people, cats probably domesticated themselves, which could account for the haughty independence of their descendants. “The cats were adapting themselves to a new environment, so the push for domestication came from the cat side, not the human side,” Dr. Driscoll said.

Cats are “indicators of human cultural adolescence,” he remarked, since they entered human experience as people were making the difficult transition from hunting and gathering, their way of life for millions of years, to settled communities.

Until recently the cat was commonly believed to have been domesticated in ancient Egypt, where it was a cult animal. But three years ago a group of French archaeologists led by Jean-Denis Vigne discovered the remains of an 8-month-old cat buried with its human owner at a Neolithic site in Cyprus. The Mediterranean island was settled by farmers from Turkey who brought their domesticated animals with them, presumably including cats, because there is no evidence of native wildcats in Cyprus.

The date of the burial far precedes Egyptian civilization. Together with the new genetic evidence, it places the domestication of the cat in a different context, the beginnings of agriculture in the Near East, and probably in the villages of the Fertile Crescent, the belt of land that stretches up through the countries of the eastern Mediterranean and down through what is now Iraq.

Dr. Stephen O’Brien, an expert on the genetics of the cat family and a co-author of the Science report, described the domestication of the cat as “the beginning of one of the major experiments in biological history” because the number of house cats in the world now exceeds half a billion while most of the 36 other species of cat, and many wildcats, are now threatened with extinction.

So a valuable outcome of the new study is the discovery of genetic markers in the DNA that distinguish native wildcats from the house cats and feral domestic cats with which they often interbreed. In Britain and other countries, true wildcats may be highly protected by law.

David Macdonald of Oxford University, a co-author of the report, has spent 10 years trying to preserve the Scottish wildcat, of which only 400 or so remain. “We can use some of the genetic markers to talk to conservation agencies like the Scottish Natural Heritage,” he said.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

The Near Eastern Origin of Cat Domestication (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1139518) (Science)

June 30th, 2007, 08:21 AM
Just when I thought I knew everything about cats!:D

I was fascinated by the kitten photo you posted, wanted to know the feline's classification, so I followed your links. Haven't found a definite answer yet, but found this photo with a caption:

The Near Eastern wildcat began tagging along with humans on their
journeys 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, according to a new

Researchers pinpointed the ancestor of domestic cats by comparing DNA of
several wildcat subspecies, including a type of European wildcat pictured

The map shows the historic distribution of the five species of related
wildcats, including the Near Eastern wildcat, F.s. lybica.**

Top photograph courtesy Ewan Macdonald, bottom map courtesy Science.


**Classification of kitten in Kris's photos?

July 1st, 2007, 01:19 PM
**Classification of kitten in Kris's photos?

I'd have to go with Ultra Cute

July 1st, 2007, 02:42 PM
I (Rapunzel) have classified the cats in the three photos above!

Wildcats are divided into five subspecies: the European wildcat, the Near Eastern wildcat, the Southern African wildcat, the Central Asian wildcat and the Chinese desert cat. This wildcat was photographed in Africa.

^^This is the African/Middle Eastern wildcat, F.s. lybica.
It's not a kitten, as I had thought; it just has a kittenish look.
I verified the classifications when I found many similar pictures on websites, one of which is this:

Felis lybica - Gatto selvatico africano

July 1st, 2007, 03:31 PM
Further classification by Rapunzel:


These cats are not the African/Middle Eastern wildcat, F.s. lybica. Their classification is the European wildcat, F.s. silvestris.
I verified this when I found many similar pictures on websites, one of which is this:

One of three distinct groups or subspecies of
wild cats, European wildcats are found throughout
Europe and western Russia and Scandinavian
countries, inhabiting deciduous forests. Within
the British Isles, they are found in Scotland.

Notice how the domestic pedigree cat breed, the Turkish Van, has a remarkably similar face, head, and ear structure::)
This is somebody's pet, a very expensive show cat.

July 1st, 2007, 10:00 PM
Their classification is the European wildcat, F.s. silvestris.Any relations to Sylvester?


July 2nd, 2007, 03:37 AM
Any relations to Sylvester?
Wikipedia and like sources say that "Sylvester" is a play on the word "silvestris". No "official" source I've come across says so.:confused:

August 27th, 2010, 03:50 PM
The Dog's Diary

8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 pm - Milk bones! My favorite thing!
1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 pm - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
5:00 pm - Dinner! My favorite thing!
7:00 pm - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
8:00 pm - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 pm - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

The Cat's Diary

Day 983 of My Captivity
My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.

The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet. Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates my capabilities. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a "good little hunter" I am. Bastards!

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of "allergies." I must learn what this means, and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow, but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released, and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded. The bird must be an informant. I observe him communicate with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe. For now ...

August 28th, 2010, 10:43 AM
Amusing post, Zip.

Where did you find it ... or did you write it?

August 28th, 2010, 05:10 PM
Yeah, very funny, Zip! How very Dave Barry of you. :)

August 28th, 2010, 09:31 PM
No credit here. Sent via email from a friend whose wife is a cat person. Made me chuckle.

I once got into a discussion with her about cats & dogs. I said, "Who needs a pet that's as neurotic as a human?" I want,

Yay, he's home!!!

My wife used to say that. :p

August 30th, 2010, 05:19 PM
Very interesting thought about the 5 cats being the matriarchs for the whole world of cats. My parents live in the mid-west and say that bob-cats are breeding with the domestic cats. This breed has become a recognized breed called Pixie bobs. They are very cute animals (http://www.chacha.com/category/animals-plants). My parents are going to get one and I can't wait. They are supposed to be very friendly and also very good at catching mice. It made me wonder what kinds of cats had bred to form the kind of cats I have.

August 31st, 2010, 10:02 AM
I would be careful about any wild crossbreed Iga.

many things that may have been bred out of a domesticated animal have a way of coming out when this happens. I would leave the cat to be your outdoor hunter, but keep them away from the smaller livestock AND keep away from your children.....

October 5th, 2010, 12:08 AM
lol @ cat's diary

I love cats & respect their energy..thanks for the article