The largest genetic study of cats reveals how our furry friends spread out across Europe, Asia, and Africa, and even hitched a ride aboard Viking ships.
The researchers behind the new study believe the friendship between cats and humans arose in connection with the early agricultural communities' grain storing. The grain attracted rodents, which in turn attracted wild cats, and a fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship between cats and humans may have occurred - the cats got food and people got rid of the rodents.
The world’s first large study into ancient cat DNA reveals that the earliest ancestors of our furry friends reached Eurasia and Africa at the same time as early farmers, and were later helped by mariners, including the Vikings.
Cats also helped to keep down the numbers of rats and mice on ships, during long voyages at sea, says lead-author Eva-Maria Geigl, an evolutionary geneticist with the Institut Jacques Monod, Paris, France.
Archaeologist and Ph.D. Christian Koch Madsen, who works at the National Museum in Copenhagen, says that archaeological finds show that cats also came to Greenland, and thus "they must indeed have been onboard the Viking ships," he writes to Videnskab.dk.
Scientists sequenced the DNA from 290 cats from more than 30 archaeological excavations throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, including the remains of a cat in a Viking grave in northern Germany.
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