Scientists say cats became domesticated 10,000 years ago
Cats are beloved family pets to millions of households around the world.
They are adored by their owners and are also unexpected online stars thanks to their cute and humorous behaviour.
Some of the world’s most famous cartoons are based on cats, such as TopCat, Garfield, Sylvester and of course Tom from Tom and Jerry fame.
It seems that cats have been a part of our lives and society for as long as anyone can remember.
However, now thanks to work done by scientists we are able to date the point in history when cats went from predators living in the wild, to domesticated pets.
Researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium, France’s National Centre for Scientific Research and the University Paris Diderot have conducted a study of the DNA of more than 200 ancient cats, some as old as 9,000 years from Europe, Africa and Asia.
It is thought that cats and humans first living side by side around 10,000 years ago.
The scientists think this process began in the area known as the Fertile Crescent, which is an arch-shaped region of fertile land surrounded by the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Humans settled there because of the fertile land. They stored grains and foods which attracted rodents, which in in turn attracted wild cats.
The cats were useful to the humans because they killed the rodents, and the cats were happy because the humans were creating a plentiful food source for them.
It is thought that the two species lived happily alongside one another for thousands of years before cats were invited into homes.
It is difficult for scientists to say exactly when cats became household pets, because fossils have little indications as to whether an animal was wild or domesticated.
It is known cats had made their ways into the homes by about 1500 BC, because paintings from ancient Egypt often show them sitting beneath chairs.
Eva-Maria Geigl, of the Jacques Monod Institute, said: “They are direct witnesses of the situation in the past.”
There is one clue in fossil DNA that can place the domestication of cats. The genetic variant that produces the blotchy coat colouring of several modern-day pets was found more frequently in fossils dated after the year 1300.
The genes that are responsible for the stripy coat, found more often in wild cats, was much more dominant in samples from before around 1300.