Good Mews Traveled Fast

Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been? All over the Ancient World, apparently

September 2017

The Egyptians’ love of cats is well known – and well reflected in their iconography. Now, for the first time, a large team has used a paleogenetic approach using ancient DNA analysis and direct accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) to better comprehend the poorly understood process of feline domestication – and confirmed the role the Egyptians played.

Eva-Maria Geigl (Research Director at the National Research Center CNRS Jacques Monod Institute, Paris, France) and Wim van Neer (a zooarchaeologist from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences), have worked in the paleogenetics field for many years, retrieving DNA data from archeological samples discovered in the Fertile Crescent (Levant, northern Syria, southeast Anatolia, Iraq and northern Iran) – the heart of the feline domestication zone. “DNA preservation correlates in part to temperature (it is less well preserved in hotter climates) – not only were the cat remains old, but they were not cold,” says Geigl. “Cat bones are also small and fragile, and contain only a few small compact regions, if any, where DNA is preserved – so we knew this was going to be a challenging task!” Nevetheless, the team collected data from over 200 ancient samples from the Near East, Africa and Europe to get a global view of the cat domestication process.