The world’s first large-scale study of “ancient feline DNA” has found that cats are even more resilient than previously thought, and having viking companions are just one of the many lives the self-reliant animals have led. After becoming domesticated in Egypt and the Near East 15,000 years ago, the furry friends were brought on board to kill rodents while vikings conquered the globe. Their affiliation for mice kept them around farmers in the Mediterranean. DNA from 209 cats that lived between 15,000 and 2,700 years ago were sequenced when the study was presented at the International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology in Oxford last week.
The aim of the study was to learn more about the largely unknown ancient heritage of the animal that many (37 per cent of Americans, in fact) have welcomed into their home. "We don’t know the history of ancient cats. We do not know their origin, we don't know how their dispersal occurred," said one of the studies team members, Eva-Maria Geigl, an evolutionary geneticist from the Institut Jacques Monod in France, to Nature. The team found that cats probably experienced two waves of expansion during their early years, according to the DNA from cats found in ancient Egypt tombs, burial sites in Cyprus and a Viking grave in Germany. Evidence of the animals were found in more than 30 archaeological excavation sites across Europe, the middle East, and Africa. “There are so many interesting observations in the study,”says Population Geneticist Pontus Skoglund from Harvard Medical School. “I didn’t even know there were Viking cats.” he says. Well, now that you mention it.