Domestic cats spread around Europe by Roman and Viking seafarers

There was an unusual archaeological find recently in London. They dug up human remains that were assessed as being those of Chinese people. The skeletons were dated to AD200. Scientists had no idea that the Chinese had, on the face of it, found their way to Britain so early. Perhaps they hadn’t and the assessment was false but it got me thinking.

Roman cat

Roman cat

This is the time when Romans were settled in the UK. I wondered whether the first British Shorthair cats were those living in Roman homes at that time and also whether amongst the ancient British Shorthairs there were some Asian cats. If there were it would be far earlier than once imagined.

I don’t know the answer but recent research by an international team of scientists lead by Claudio Ottoni, of the University of Oslo and Eva-Maria Geigl of the Jacques Monod Institute in Paris have come to the conclusion that one population of cats which may have originated in Africa had been transported across the Mediterranean by AD400. This particular “strain” labelled ‘clade C’ appeared to have come on ships – trading and warships – to and around the continent of Europe.

By AD1000 this type of cat had arrived at Germany as domestic cats to Viking settlements (did, then Vikings bring these cats to North America? Big doubt about that). The scientists also state that ancient cats appear to have made sea journeys between India and the Roman Empire. Cat remains were found at a port on the Red Sea coast and near harbours in Turkey. These cats had Asian DNA.

There is evidence that cats travelled with people on their war and trade routes.

The scientists asked museum curators and archaeologist of the world for bone and teeth from 209 cat corpses to allow them to study their DNA.

They sequenced their mitochondrial DNA (a part of the DNA in a cell which is preserved better than other DNA) to assess the age of each sample. Perhaps the general conclusion we can draw from this research is that the domestic cat was spread around Europe at an early stage. It is as if there has been a two-stage process. At first there was domestication of the N.African wildcat around 10,000 years ago and phase two was the spread of the domestic cat to the West, starting at Europe getting on for 2,000 years ago.

Sorry this is so short. If I can find out more I’ll add to the page later. Source: Times Newspaper.

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