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Did the ancient Egyptians domesticate the cat?

Oct 05, 2012
Kurushima JD, Ikram S, Knudsen J, Bleiberg E, Grahn RA and Lyons LA. Cats of the pharaohs: Genetic comparison of Egyptian cat mummies to their feline Contemporaries. Journal of Archaeological Science. 2012; 39: 3217-23.
 
Ancient Egyptian culture is well known for its reverence and mummification of cats based on art and skeletal remains dating back to about 4000 BC. From this historical association between man and cat, many scholars concluded that the ancient Egyptians likely domesticated our present day feline companions. However, an archeological finding in Cyprus of a potential wildcat buried with a human dates to approximately 7500 BC, before the Predynastic Egyptian period. Additionally, recent genetic studies have suggested that the origins of cat domestication occurred in the adjacent Near Eastern sites including the Fertile Crescent regions. The origin of cats in Egypt may have arisen via trade through the Near East as already domesticated animals.

Mummification of cats (and other animals) was a long-standing tradition in ancient Egypt, reaching its zenith during the Late Period (664-332 BC). Cat mummies can be divided into four categories: pets, revered gods (e.g., Bastet the cat goddess and protectress), food offerings, and votive (i.e. vow) offerings. The majority of offerings found in Egypt and museums are of the votive type. Genetic analyses in this study included two long bones (dated from about 664 BC to 250 AD) and a mandible (dated from about 400 BC to 200 AD) from three mummified cats of the votive type. After identifying a portion of mitochondrial DNA with sufficient variability to distinguish among various modern wild cats and domestic cat mitotypes, overcoming the antagonism of the votive mummification process to PCR chemistry, and in spite of the environmental insult to the mummy remains through antiquity, these authors were able to successfully amplify DNA from Egyptian cat mummies for the first time. Their research supports the view that cats, revered by the ancient Egyptians, were likely Felis silvestris catus (domestic cats) implying cats were domesticated prior to extensive votive mummification. [GO]

See also: Gnudi G, Volta A, Manfredi S, Ferri F and Conversi R. Radiological investigation of an over 2000-year-old Egyptian mummy of a cat. J Feline Med Surg. 2012; 14: 292-4.
mummy

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