The spread of cat domestication and evolution of the blotched tabby cat

Two waves of spread of domestic cat to Europe

This is very much in brief. The video below summarises in layperson’s language quite a technical research document published on the Nature Ecology and Evolution website. The ancient history of the domestic cat is quite well-known but if you watch the video you will note that there were two strands or waves in the evolution of today’s domestic cat. That is slightly novel to me at least.

One strand is from the Fertile Crescent which is in the area of Syria today (see video screenshot). From there the domestic cat spread out north west to Bulgaria and Romania in around 6000 years BC. The second wave started later from ancient Egypt and the cats from this region spread further within Europe than those from the Fertile Crescent; reaching as far as the north coast of Europe (see screenshot). Incidentally, the Romans brought the domestic cat to the United Kingdom in around 200 A.D.

Blotched Tabby Coat

Dutch Ringtail Cat

Dutch Ringtail Cat. He is a classic (blotched) tabby cat too.

The blotched tabby coat (sometimes referred to as the ‘classic tabby’) is one in which the dark markings are swirls and blotches rather than stripes and spots. The background colour is usually brown.

The domestic cat that we see in the early history of domestication are of striped (mackerel) tabbies. You will see this cat depicted in Egyptian paintings. This must be an genetic inheritance from the North African wild cat which has a mackerel tabby type coat.

The research indicates that the blotched tabby pattern evolved towards the end of the Middle Ages probably in the Ottoman Empire which centres around Turkey.

However, it was only in the 18th century that the blotched tabby pattern was common enough to be associated with the domestic cat. The researchers does not tell us how the blotched tabby cat coat evolved. It would seem that even at that stage (pre-selective breeding at an organised level) there was some selective breeding going on or perhaps is was informal random breeding between mackerel tabby cats. I am sure Sarah Hartwell (a cat genetics expert) can clarify that point.

Selective breeding for cat breeds (the cat fancy) only really began in the middle of the 19th century in Europe. For most of the history of the domestic cat appearance was secondary to behavior.

P.S. The “recessive allele W841X, which is associated with the blotched markings…

P.P.S. See the research study.The study involved an analysis of DNA from more than 350 dead cats, including the bones of a Buried with its Neolithic master around 9000 years ago. Of the total number of cats, 209 had usable mitochondrial DNA passed down only from on the mother’s line. Is this which showed that there are two lineages or two waves or strands preceding the modern domestic cat.

P.P.P.S. Please feel free to add and amend this in comments.

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