Cats play an essential role in our everyday lives. They have many jobs around the house, such as monitoring humans in the bathroom, knocking stuff off tables to make sure gravity still exists, and most importantly, being our snuggle buddies. While cats might seem perfectly content with being couch potatoes, the reality is they’ve been pulling the long con on humanity for thousands of years. New research that tracks the palaeogenetics of cats across ancient Europe, Asia, and Africa proves what the internet has long suggested—cats have already taken over the world, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
The study, published today in Nature Ecology & Evolution, analysed the DNA from 200 ancient and modern cats, spanning the last 9,000 years. This work allowed the researchers to determine the original phylogeographic structure of cats—or how genetically different cat populations were geographically distributed throughout history—which is something that other archaeological and genetic analyses have not been able to accomplish.
“This, in turn, made it possible to reconstruct how cats were moved by humans across time and space, allowing us to prove that cats from two different sources—the Near East during the Neolithic and Egypt during the Classical/Roma era—contributed to the genetic make-up of modern domestic cats,” co-author Claudio Ottoni of the University of Leuven told Gizmodo.
The first lines of cats, called IV-A, were originally from southwest Asia, but brought to Europe in about 4400 BC. The second group of cats were African felines called IV-C, found in Egypt over 3,000 years ago. IV-C kitties were quite the Mediterranean explorers, keeping rodents at bay on various trade ships. The researchers suggest that both groups of domestic cats probably mated with wild cats in their respective regions, bringing more and more kitty varieties onto the planet.
Cats were domesticated after dogs, beginning about 10,000 years ago in Near Eastern farming communities. But it was in ancient Egypt that cats got their first real ego boost. The Egyptians worshipped a half-woman, half-cat goddess named Bastet. Cats were mummified and formally mourned by their owners, who shaved their eyebrows off when their kitties died.
“We argue that the peculiar social and cultural context of the Egyptian society may have facilitated the evolution of a more ‘friendly’ disposition of cats towards humans,” Ottoni explained. “From their role of pest control agents that characterised their relationship with humans since the Neolithic, it is possible that cats in Egypt became the companions that we know today.”
My cat, Artemis, as I’m trying to write this article. (Image: Rae Paoletta)
So, are cats poised to take over the world? According to Ottoni, they already have.
“Cats have already ‘conquered’ the most remote regions of the world (they are on all continents except Antarctica),” he said. “Ecologically speaking this comes with a toll: cats are cute pets, but they are also a highly invasive species with an impact on species native of regions in which cats were introduced by humans (particularly the States and Australia).”
Ottoni added that cats have “definitely already conquered humans’ collective consciousness,” achieving a stable place both in our homes and on the internet.
Even if you don’t like cats, you have to give them credit for making the world their litter box for thousands of years. I, for one, welcome our feline overlords. [Nature Ecology & Evolution]