This story confirms, in my view, that semi-domesticated wildcats travelled with migrants from the Eastern Mediterranean to other parts of the world including Poland where scientists have unearthed the 7,000-year-old remains of wildcats at a farming settlement. Scientists found the humerus bone of a wildcat next to human items, ceramic vessels, in the sediment.
The theory is that the Near Eastern wildcat (otherwise known as the North African wildcat or African-Asian wildcat) became domesticated about 10,000 years ago in what is called the Fertile Crescent. This area is about where Syria is today and it has also been speculated that the domestication of the cat took place in the Eastern Mediterranean almost 14,500 years ago.
From there travellers, traders and migrants et cetera spread out to other parts of the world with their cat “companions”. In this instance to Poland where they discovered the remains. The scientists are not sure if the remains indicate a domestic cat or whether this was a semi-domesticated Near Eastern wildcat. Of course, they are also unsure about the exact type of relationship between cat and person at this time but because the bones had a lower nitrogen concentration, they concluded that it was a loose one. The cats were not dependent upon humans for food.
The fact that they travelled with this cat from the Eastern Mediterranean to Poland, a long distance, would indicate that the cat was at least tame to a certain extent and perhaps kept in a cage while they travelled. I am speculating.
The study was carried out by scientists at Nicholas Copernicus University in Torun, Poland. The leader of the study, Magdalena Krajcarz, said that she was surprised to make the finding. They found the skeletal remains of the wildcats in four Polish caves considered to be early farming settlements.
In bringing the Near Eastern wildcat to Poland, the migrants introduced a different species of wildcat to that area where the resident wildcat was and still is the European species. It is speculated that they might have hybridised (mated).
This is probably in line with existing thinking namely that the early domesticated cats lived with farmers not in the way that domestic cats live with people today but as utilitarian animals in a rather loose relationship feeding on rodents. That said, there must have been some direct interaction between people and the cats. I would liken the relationship to today’s community cats in the developing world. These cats don’t have owners but live in the community and interact with people in a loose relationship.
The study states that the bones of genuine house cats i.e. domestic cats, did not show up in Poland until about A.D. 200. I wonder whether these are the bones of domestic cats brought with Romans on their way to Britain. In Britain the domestic cat was introduced around that time by the Romans. These were genuine domestic cats.
For me, having studied the history of the domestic cat over 13 years, this study is confirmation, as I’ve stated, of the spread of the domestic cat (albeit not the kind of cat with which we are familiar today) from the Eastern Mediterranean east and west with migrants and commercial travellers. I recently wrote about a study in Kazakhstan and the discovery of the 1,000-year-old remains of domestic cats there, in a location along the Silk Road, which also confirms the spread of the cat outwards from that central hub just east of the Mediterranean Sea.
The story is published on the National Geographic website.