Saturday, October 1, 2016

It’s A Cat’s World


Felis Catus: the domestic or common house cat. Jason Daley for Smithsonian writes: “Though the first full dog genome was sequenced in 2005, it took another two years for a cat’s genome to be sequenced. And it wasn’t until 2014 when a high-quality map of this cat’s genes, an Abyssinian named Cinnamon, was finally published.”
Photo Credit: Rob Stothard; Getty Images

Today is #Caturday in the world of Internet memes, so this is another story, among many, that will help spread this meme. How apropos, since this is a story of how cats became common around the world. An article, by Jason Daley, in Smithsonian says that “evolutionary geneticist Eva-Maria Geigl, from the Institut Jacques Monod in Paris, presented the first comprehensive study of the spread of felines through history at a conference in Oxford.”

Cats were first found in the Middle East, spreading to eastern Mediterranean along with the farmers who domesticated the felines to keep the mice from eating their agriculture; and then thousands of years later cats migrated by sea from Egypt, where cats were revered, to Eurasia and sub-Saharan Africa.

In “New DNA Analysis Shows How Cats Spread Around the World” (September 27, 2016), Daley writes:
Geigl and her colleagues analyzed the mitochondrial DNA of 209 domestic cats found at 30 archeological sites in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The cats span human history, from the dawn of agriculture through the 18th century.
What the researchers found is that cats spread in two waves. The first explosion happened when agriculture first appeared in the eastern Mediterranean and Turkey, where the wild ancestors of domestic cats live. Geigl suggests that when people began storing grain, they likely attracted rodents. These rodents, in turn, likely attracted the wild cats. Early farmers may have seen the advantages of having cats control the rodent populations and encouraged them to stick around, eventually leading to domestic breeds.
The second wave of cat-spansion happened several thousand years later, explains Callaway. Geigl’s team discovered that cats with a mitochondrial lineage from Egypt began appearing in Bulgaria, Turkey and sub-Saharan Africa between the fourth century B.C. and the fourth century A.D. The team believes sailors may have begun keeping cats on ships around this time to control rodents, spreading them to port cities during trading missions. In fact, a cat with the Egyptian mitochondrial DNA was found in a Viking site in North Germany dating between 700 and 1000 A.D.
What this research has confirmed, so far, is that cats have been domesticated much longer than 4,000 years ago, which was the generally accepted belief among scientists, but archaeological digs and Geigl’s current findings tell us that cats have been living around humans for much longer—probably as long as 10,000 years ago, when humans adopted a more agricultural lifestyle in a region known as the Fertile Crescent.

As is common with dogs, there are also pedigree cats and official cat shows with awards. The International Cat Association (TICA), based in the U.S., recognizes 63 breeds of cats, it says, “from the ancient Abyssinian to the newer breeds like the Lykoi cat, and including wild looking Chausie and Bengals.” The Canadian Cat Association (CCA) lists 55 breeds, including the house cat,  On the other hand, the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), also based in the U.S., recognizes only 41 breeds of cats.

Some people fancy cats; some prefer dogs as companions; there are notable and noticeable differences between the two. On a personal note, I love cats, as do many writers, including Jean Paul Sartre, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. There is a good short article in The Guardian (“Authors’ mews: writers and their cats;” November 12, 2008) on writers and the cats who reside with them. Not to say too much here that people who have resided with cats already know, but cats have an air of mystery about them; they are mystical beings.

Final note: one does not “own” a cat. The cat “adopts” the human.

For more, go to [Smithsonian]

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