Turmoil in Middle East and N. Africa hampers research into origins of domestic cat

Homs in Syria damaged by fighting
Syria is one of the places where domestication of the wildcat first occurred. — original photo: by FreedomHouse
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Almost all the cats of the small species of wild cat that is called the “wildcat” are hybrids. At some stage in their lineage an ancestor mated with a domestic cat. It may have been thousands of years ago but nearly all of them are not “purebred”.

This is because the domestic cat – whose ancestor is the wildcat – has always been ready to mate with the wildcat and vice versa. The wildcat created the domestic cat and the domestic cat mated with its creator and made it impure.

This near 100% hybridozation of the wildcat makes it difficult to locate the places where the wildcat first domesticated itself. The earliest remains are said to be in Cyprus dated to about 9,500 years ago.

However, common sense tells us that the first domestications of the wildcat would have occured in many other places in and around what is called the “fertile crescent”. These first domestications probably occurred hundreds and perhaps thousands of years apart.

Fertile crescent - where the domestic cat was created
Fertile crescent – where the domestic cat first came into existence, it is believed.

I think it is sensible to speculate that the first domestication of the cat would have taken place in the wider area that is the Middle East and North Africa going up to Turkey and adjoining areas.

Revolutions in some the countries of this area by the citizens demanding democracy has lead to turmoil and instability in the area for several years. The scientific name for the first domesticated wildcat is felis silvestris lybica. The last word is named after Libya, one of the countries still unsafe for visitors after a revolution and continuing uncertainty and disruption.

Apparently the most comprehensive study to date includes samples of DNA from:

  • two colonies of cats in southern Israel,
  • three cats in Saudi Arabia and
  • one cat in UAE

To complete the study, DNA samples are required from:

  • Lebanon
  • Syria
  • Egypt
  • North Africa

The genetic information can then be assessed to work out where the domestication of the cat began. These countries and areas are not suited to a scientific study researching the origins of the domestic cat.

It is rather ironic that the very civilised act of the domestication of the wildcat took place in an area that was relatively slow to take up the most civilised way to govern a country: a democracy.

Ref: Cat Sense by John Bradshaw

6 thoughts on “Turmoil in Middle East and N. Africa hampers research into origins of domestic cat”

  1. I think you mean’t ‘Cyprus’ not ‘Cyrus’ Michael? This fertile crescent is no longer fertile – and that fact is a major cause of the current war in Syria. The original protests in Douma began because of a lack of basic things such as food and water. This was after the Syrian government had sold off most of it’s grain deposits due to the drought which started a few years earlier and which forced farmers to the cities (in the area of Douma) after the water table dried out underneath them – making them unable to survive off the land anymore.

    If the so called crescent was still fertile then we here in the west would have done a much better job in sustaining the worlds resources in the places we onced owned and plundered.

    …but, being the bunch of greedy assh*l*s our politicians are, we sadly failed terribly in this context and have destroyed the earth, and passed on our technology to cvountries who still don’t care about the earth and who are making ev en more of a mess than we did.

    Does anybody have some good news?

    • A tiny bit of good news Marc, though not on this topic…Peppa the cat in care at CP who had to have her tail amputated when she was spayed, has a forever home!
      News like that cheers me up 🙂

    • Thanks for spotting that typo, Marc. I blame Charlie for lying all over me and getting me hot (he gives off an enormous amount of heat!) and getting in the way. Or perhaps it was the beer I was drinking at the same time 😉

      This fertile crescent is no longer fertile – and that fact is a major cause of the current war in Syria.

      It is ironic that the once fertile crescent which must have been a successful place for business and food production and the birthplace of the domestic cat is now destroyed or damaged through human mismanagement.

      No doubt the life of the first domestic cats were better than the lives of today’s cats in the area. We can’t call that progress.

  2. I have friends in Egypt who can easily get cat samples. They are over-run with cats. Likewise in Tunisia. I could possibly get samples from Dubai. A friend has a daughter living there. All is not lost. It’a natter of having contacts in those areas., but i admit that would be difficult in Syria. There are many areas in n Africa that are calm and peaceful.
    The important thing is to contact those folks who are conducting this research. Can do?

  3. I think this article is a bit muddled Michael which is not unexpected when this subject has only recently seen some useful genetic studies.
    The oldest known archaeological evidence of cat domestication. or at least a close relationship between a human and a cat may have been unearthed in Cyprus but both cat and human were not native to Cyprus. They were from Eastern Anatolia as proven by the presence of tools made from a a special kind of obsidian only found in E Anatolia.
    Cyprus was never joined to the Turkish mainland. It rose from the sea due to the colliding of the Eurasian and African tectonic plates. Thus mammalian life including cats must have been brought from elsewhere.
    This evidence in Cyprus pre-dates the Egyptian civilisations by thousands of years and suggests that such events were also taking place in Anatolia 9,500 years ago.
    it is unlikely that Egypt was an active participant in the agricultural revolution because this was only made possible by the natural presence of a wheat-like wild grass called Einkorn which was only found mostly in Turkey and not Egypt.
    It is much more likely that cats were first domesticated in Anatolia with parallel domestication events taking place in the areas now called Iraq, Iran, Syria, Israel, but DNA evidence shows that Turkish cats are very homogeneous whereas cats in the aforementioned regions show genetic influences from various regions including Turkey. From this it is more likely that cats originating in Anatolia spread out to other areas, not the other way round. There does not seem to be a DNA signature specific to Egypt. Egyptian cats are a mix of cats from several different areas including Turkey.
    Ref.- ” To complete the study, DNA samples are required from:….
    This is very interesting.
    Can you give more details as to who is undertaking this study?
    Friends in Turkey, Tunisia, and Egypt will be able to help. Also the importance of samples from Turkey (not mentioned)cannot be over-emphasized.

    • What I mean, Harvey is that there must have been parallel domestications going on all over the place where the Near Eastern wildcat was found but the earliest apparently were centered on the fertile crescent. I think we are on the same page. The point I am making is that this particular area is out of bounds more or less.


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