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Earth Science

Cats May Have Been Domesticated Twice (sciencemag.org) 172

sciencehabit writes: Cats may have been domesticated twice, once in Turkey around 10,000 years ago, and again in Egypt, thousands of years later. That's the conclusion of a new genetic analysis of more than 200 ancient cats, including DNA extracted from Egyptian mummies. The scientists found evidence for an exodus of cats into the wider world from both ancient Turkey and ancient Egypt, but that these two waves of cats sported different genetic signatures. Whether or not the ancient Egyptians independently domesticated cats, their massive breeding programs appear to have further tamed the feline, turning cats from territorial and antisocial creatures into the lovable furballs we know today.
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Cats May Have Been Domesticated Twice

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @06:05AM (#54652947)

    Cats have never been domesticated by humans. They domesticated us, and I for one welcome our feline overlords.

    • *purr*

      • So, humans have been sneezing for over 10K years...??
        • Humans sneeze.

          Cats sneeze.

          Guinea pigs sneeze (I used to infect the little buggers with TB - trust me on this, they sneeze.

          This is what is known as a "phylogenetic bracket" - the same character is seen in multiple, distantly related, lineages. While it is possible that the lineages have each independently developed the same character ("convergent evolution"), as the number of organisms and the number of associated characters increases it becomes increasingly likely that the origin of the character is by c

    • by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @08:23AM (#54653273)

      Exactly. Turkey was just a trial run, after the analyses was done and the kinks worked out they really went for it in Egypt. All in the name of world domination! They succeeded, where many an evil mastermind has utterly failed.

      • Stubborn (Score:5, Funny)

        by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @10:09AM (#54653775)

        Cats are just so stubborn that they HAD to be domesticated twice.

      • Exactly. Turkey was just a trial run, after the analyses was done and the kinks worked out they really went for it in Egypt. All in the name of world domination! They succeeded, where many an evil mastermind has utterly failed.

        The abstract of the Nature paper does include this sentence: "While the cat’s worldwide conquest began during the Neolithic period in the Near East..."

      • Have you not noticed that for every Evil Mastermind, there is a fluffy white cat on her lap. THe masterminds only succeed with the cat's permission.
    • by OpenSourced ( 323149 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @08:29AM (#54653303) Journal

      But it was done twice!. We can try now for the third one, see if this time it sticks!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As they say about pet ownership: "Dogs have owners, cats have staff."

    • Well, I'm sorry to Godwin this thread so early, but those seemingly benign furry faux friends are definitely up to something sinister: Kitlers http://www.catsthatlooklikehit... [catsthatlo...hitler.com]

    • by whitroth ( 9367 ) <whitroth.5-cent@us> on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @12:30PM (#54654659) Homepage

      Right. A better way of looking at the story is this:

      Dogs, we got together with 15? 20? 30? kyears ago, and what happened? We chased game, hung out, and licked or scratched our private parts.

      Then cats figured out how to domesticate us, and the next thing you know, we have agriculture and towns, then cities.

      See? That's why we're here....

    • As a former servant to cats and current owner of a dog, I concur. That was my first thought. Cats put up with us.
    • There is the old joke about the difference between dogs and cats/

      Dogs think: “These people feed me, provide for me, give me shelter, and love me. They must be a God!”

      Cats think: “These people feed me, provide for me, give me shelter and love me. I must be a God!”

  • All those old ladies who live with dozens of cats living among the stench of them might have been infected with Toxoplasma virus [wikipedia.org]. This virus infects the brain and creates a liking for cat urine and excreta! The life cycle of this virus is that it reproduces in cat bodies but matures in mice bodies. Makes the mice lose their fear of cats, and the cats eat them. It seems to have jumped to humans and humans find cats lovable because of this infection.

    Thus one can seriously argue cats have been domesticatin

    • It's not a virus! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @06:27AM (#54652999)
      It's not a virus, but a parasite. The fact that it has a "life cycle" comprised of several reproductive stages should be a strong hint. Viruses just get host cells to make more viruses.
    • Are you sure cats aren't aware of it? Sounds to me like they are waging biological warfare on us.
    • Toxoplasma is, as another sibling posting points out, a parasite, which means that it's not cats domesticating people or vice versa, it's toxoplasma controlling both - if you want to be paranoid.

      That said, as cats are domesticated and kept even in the absence of the parasite, it's not really a factor here. A sizable number of cats, including many outside of those practical to keep as pets, seem to be fairly easy to domesticate - bring up a cheetah cub yourself and it'll purr and let you do all the things

      • by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @08:13AM (#54653237)

        The feline brain is very similar in structure to the human brain, only obviously a lot smaller.

        Just like humans they are very adaptive and able to change with their environment. So if that environment includes humans, they adapt and learn to live with a human environment.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo&world3,net> on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @09:21AM (#54653495) Homepage Journal

          If you understand a few things about the cat brain, their behaviour makes a lot more sense.

          Cats don't understand cause and effect. They only learn by trial and error, positive and negative reinforcement. Often they will adopt less than optimal behaviours because they work and they don't have any concept of optimization. Sometimes this makes them seem very clever, appearing to have worked out how to perform a complex series of actions, and other times they seem really dumb. In every case it's just the result of trying stuff until something works, and cats have a lot of time to spend experimenting.

          Cats also don't have object permanence. When they see a toy, they don't think "that's the same toy I had yesterday, and it's where I left it". They only know it's their toy because it's shape is familiar and it smells like them. They only know where it is because they learned by experience that it's usually in a particular room.

          On a social level, they are basically sociopaths. They learn how to behave around humans but don't necessarily feel the emotions that drive us to act a certain way. Some behaviour is the same as they would have with their mother. Adult cats generally don't use their voices much, if they meow it's usually to get their human staff to do what they want, the same as they would meow to attract their mother's attention. Kneading is another kitten behaviour that they apply to humans - they are trying to milk you.

          The most important thing for cats is their personal domain. Moving house is very traumatic for them because they need familiar spaces. They don't really care who the human staff are; you being a constant during the move doesn't offer them much comfort. Some places have started offering apartments with cats, i.e. the cat lives in the apartment all its life while the humans come and go.

          • by eaglesrule ( 4607947 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @01:17PM (#54654953)

            On a social level, they are basically sociopaths

            While it is true that cats tend to be independently minded, they also form bonds in a group and have an established hierarchy. They are very social, but also protective of each other when sufficiently bonded.

            I've experienced cases where when a cat senses one of their group to be in danger or trapped, it will go and try to seek help. They will vocalize when they feel something is wrong or requires attention.

            An example, one day one of our outside cats (an adopted stray) went missing. We didn't think much of it at first as its a pretty common occurrence, but after several days there was a change in behavior in one of the other outside cats. It became extremely vocal, following us around and demanding attention until we followed it. It led us to a small structure on a neighboring property and was acting very agitated. When we looked inside, we found the missing cat, which had been trapped and would have died had its partner not alerted us.

            That's not what I'd consider to be sociopathic.

            • by hawk ( 1151 )

              I observed a similar behavior with my cat, which I had had for years, and the new kitten.

              He did the head-butt to follow thing, and brought me to the litter box where the kitten had died, and meowed at me.

              (and it wasn't because he was smart--he couldn't figure out that there was food in the bowl unless someone stood there for him to start [you could leave once he started], nor that he could pee outside when he escaped [and that was when I lived two blocks from the ocean--I'd come home 12 hours later, an he'

            • by Mkkby ( 4973999 )
              Religiously trained people tend to think animals are robots that can only react to base survival needs. Nature is to be conquered, rather than understood/respected. Much too simplistic and ignores obvious facts. Story time. My cat sensed danger -- a significant change in the world -- and woke me up. This happened twice. A power outage and a snow storm. In each case, I immediately noticed something WAS wrong. It was much quieter than usual. The cat didn't think only of itself, i.e to hide or run awa
          • Adult cats generally don't use their voices much

            Fact of the matter is, in the wild, cats rarely vocalize at all. Humans 'teach' them to 'talk', because we make so much (unncessary?) noise with our mouths. Cats learn to copy that because they discover it gets them what they want. This is something I picked up watching some shows on Animal Planet. :-)

          • by whitroth ( 9367 )

            Sorry, evidence proves you wrong that "cats don't understand cause and effect".

            Datum: I was there when a late friend was running a laser pointer for the cat's pleasure. She got tired of holding in the button and stopped.

            Cat looked where the pointer dot had been, looked at her hand, came over, and batted at her hand with the pointer: "the cat is not done playing...."

          • Moving house is very traumatic for them because they need familiar spaces.

            Mine seem to be reassured by a familiar food dish, not by familiar humans. I know where I rate.

        • The feline brain is very similar in structure to the human brain, only obviously a lot smaller.

          And a lot stupider. Insert obligatory joke about _______ voter here. But seriously, I used to work with a guy who was one of those "crazy cat people". I think he has had as many as 8 cats at a time living with him. Calling him a fan of cats is really an understatement. And I remember him saying that while he loved cats, they were in general pretty stupid and dogs, of which he had zero, were a lot more intelligent.

          • by Kierthos ( 225954 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @09:42AM (#54653623) Homepage

            I think it's fairer to say that the intelligence range of cats and dogs can widely vary. I've known some dogs that were dumber than a bag of hammers.

            Okay, story time. One of the cats we had when I was younger was a Siamese that we got from a shelter. If she had a previous owner, that owner never let her outside. Well, all of our cats have been indoor/outdoor cats, so we didn't see any problem letting her outside after she had acclimatized to her new home.

            No, she didn't run away. She was, quite frankly, amazed at the outside. Kind of a "Oh, wait, there's more?"

            Anyway, a while after we got her, she's outside, sunning herself on the front walk when a neighbor's Golden Retriever sees her. Now, this dog was a very pretty dog (as Golden Retrievers tend to be), but it was so dumb it's brain might as well have been a flowchart.

            So, it sees the cat, and in it's doggie brain, the only possible response is "run at cat, barking madly" followed by "WHEN cat runs, chase it."

            Not, "IF cat runs". "WHEN".

            Well, of course, the cat had no idea what a dog even was, and being the most chill cat ever, waited until the dog came to a screeching halt, still barking, to get up, sniff the dog's face, do a little kitty shrug, and lie back down. The dog was not important to the cat.

            The dog wandered off back to it's own yard. It had no concept of what to do when the cat didn't run.

        • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @09:40AM (#54653621) Homepage Journal

          Just like humans they are very adaptive and able to change with their environment.

          That's not my experience. Cats are bound to territories, while dogs are bound to the pack. The act of moving can push a cat into depression and behavioral problems, while a dog thrives on environmental changes, as long as the pack stays together.

        • by Ogive17 ( 691899 )
          We have two cats. One of the cats will routinely "act out" to get attention.. from playing with the blinds or wires (she's a wire chewer) or jumping in front of the tv while it is on. I always joke that this cat is a perpetual 2 year old. Pushing the boundary to get what she wants.
          • I have one cat pushing 20 years. She just lays around doing nothing now- but when she was young she was a terror. She knew she wasn't allowed to play with the blinds (because she destroyed them). She also knew if I was in bed in one room, I was unlikely to get out of bed to discipline her if she went into the next room.

            When I was up and about, blinds were safe. The minute I went to bed she went to the neighbouring room and started destroying the blinds. The bedroom blinds she waited until I was at work

      • That is basically true for all cubs, regardless of species.

      • nor centuries of evolution explains that

        Evolution explains exactly that. The differences in both brain and type of behavior between animals determines if they are suitable for domestication, and their utility to us determines if it is worth our while to do so.

        Case in point: Zebras. The only ones that have successfully be domesticated have been cross bread bringing in the evolutionary traits that were missing.

        • nor centuries of evolution explains that

          Evolution explains exactly that. The differences in both brain and type of behavior between animals determines if they are suitable for domestication, and their utility to us determines if it is worth our while to do so.

          Case in point: Zebras. The only ones that have successfully be domesticated have been cross bread bringing in the evolutionary traits that were missing.

          Their natural traits explains why certain animals were domesticated while others weren't. Most wild animals can be raised in captivity and become handleable. Dogs and cats both have natural tendencies that make them desirable animals. Dogs tend to be loyal and can be trained to protect and hunt while cats naturally help kill pests. Also, dogs naturally want to poop away from their home and also want to please which makes them easy to house train. Likewise with cats, they naturally want to cover their p

        • Sorry, my point was probably unclear as I was answering a question that hadn't been asked. I was addressing the usual assumption that domestic cats are domesticated because once humans started trying to domesticate them, the evolution process favored cats that could live with humans.

          I frequently hear people assert that cats purr, meow, etc, because those are things humans favor, and so cats that do that were more successful (because humans helped them and bred them) than cats that don't.

          What's clear is

      • by Dorianny ( 1847922 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @02:08PM (#54655299) Journal

        The hype over T.gondii has been largely driven by popular opinion pieces such as “How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy” instead of high quality research.

        In-fact in what they call, "to our knowledge, the most comprehensive assessment of the possible link between T. gondii infection and a variety of impairments in a single cohort," Duke University researchers Karen Sugden suggests that there may be nothing to worry about after all. They report that toxoplasmosis is associated with essentially no behavioural abnormalities in humans. http://blogs.discovermagazine.... [discovermagazine.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      All those old ladies who live with dozens of cats living among the stench of them might have been infected with Toxoplasma virus [wikipedia.org].

      a) It's not a virus
      b) Most people get it by either eating or working with pork.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasmosis#Transmission

      • by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @08:25AM (#54653285)

        Then we should compare the love for cats in Muslim/Jewish communities with that in other, pork eating communities. If that parasite has any real influence, there should be a significant difference.

        • If you cook the pork you kill the parasite, so I'm not sure you'll find many places where it is easy to find an endemic parasitism in a broad human population. In modern times it is more like getting salmonella but it sticks around longer.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        The "pork disease" is not toxoplasmosis, it's trichinosis. Yes, you can get toxoplasmosis from pork, but it's nowhere near as common.

        Toxoplasmosis is a bacterial infection caused by T. gondii.

        Trichinosis is a parasitic worm infection named for the roundworms in the Trichinella genus that cause the condition.

    • I totally hate the smell of cat urine, but i like cats. So there is no "virus". Not even a parasite.

    • It appears to not affect humans in that way.

    • >"All those old ladies who live with dozens of cats living among the stench of them"

      Indoor cats (at least none I have ever encountered) don't have any negative smell or stench. Now, if you haven't trained the cat or don't clean the litterbox, yeah, cat urine smell is horrible. But I have had cats my entire life and have never had a problem with them urinating outside the box, and have zero smell in my house.

      Dogs are the animals that smell, especially wet (OMG)... as do humans. Cats are remarkably cle

      • by Mkkby ( 4973999 )
        If you feed them a healthy diet there is no litter box smell. Dry cat food is far too high carb for cats (despite what the manufacturer may claim), and it results in an unhealthy cat and stinky box.
    • There is no credible proof of that theory at all.

  • by DeplorableCodeMonkey ( 4828467 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @06:37AM (#54653023)

    Cats can be highly social, loving animals if you don't raise them like a feral that happens to live in your house. When ours were kittens, we used to cart them around the house all of the time like babies, holding them, petting them, etc. And quelle surprise... they had a lot more in common with the average dog in terms of affection than the average cat many people know.

    Plus discipline. Set boundaries and set them hard from a young age. Cats generally will accept them.

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      My cats fetch and happily accept a leash on the collar. you can train cats quite easily, it's just that most people are too lazy to even try.

    • It also depends on the race. The common housecat is a terrible domesticated breed. The classic breeds the near east are much more domestic.

    • It's so true I raised a kitten this way, it used to sleep on top of my head at night if followed me everywhere, easily as attentive as a dog. Unfortunately hit by a car :-(
      • Lots of variability there. I've had cats that were like dogs - one would hear the garage door open when I came home from work and immediately run over to greet me, stand still for me pick him up, and lounge on my arm as we walked around the yard. Another, though she was always a somewhat-unfriendly stray, was sleeping on the other side of my bed within a week of moving in. Had to put a towel down to keep her from shedding all in the bed. And I had one that was feral to the core and never warmed to anyone. O
    • I have nfc what's going on with this cat. It was following me a lot. I petted it and it tried to run, but then got confused, and came over, got petted, ran back and forth a lot, looked terrified. Then started following me.

      Fed the cat. Cat eats, runs to me, needs to be petted to continue eating. What? Food, dammit. Eat the food. What does it want?

      Eventually I let the cat into my house, because it kept trying to come inside with me. It found four smaller cats under my couch; I never knew they were

    • Plus discipline. Set boundaries and set them hard from a young age. Cats generally will accept them.

      I think someone sold you a puppy and told you it was a kitten.

  • by Type44Q ( 1233630 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @06:41AM (#54653027)
    Or not at all, depending on how you define "domesticated." ;)
  • by billybob2001 ( 234675 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @06:47AM (#54653043)

    ...these two waves of cats sported different genetic signatures.

    Don't forget that cats exist as both waves and particles!

  • by bestweasel ( 773758 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @07:51AM (#54653153)

    Turkey around 10,000 years ago:
    Well Tiddles, I don't know about you but a lot of us have had enough of this abuse, kicking us when any little thing goes wrong, tormenting us for their sport, even murdering our poor children, so we're heading out to the desert until they've evolved a bit.

    Egypt, thousands of years later:
    As you all know, some members of the exploration committee went in to town - and let me tell you we were all a bit scared after those tales we heard as kittens - spent a few weeks cautiously interacting with the humans and trying to teach them our language, generally being friendly and helping to put food on the table and you know what? They treated us like gods.

    • by cfc-12 ( 1195347 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @10:38AM (#54653935)

      Turkey around 10,000 years ago: Well Tiddles, I don't know about you but a lot of us have had enough of this abuse, kicking us when any little thing goes wrong, tormenting us for their sport, even murdering our poor children, so we're heading out to the desert until they've evolved a bit.

      Egypt, thousands of years later: As you all know, some members of the exploration committee went in to town - and let me tell you we were all a bit scared after those tales we heard as kittens - spent a few weeks cautiously interacting with the humans and trying to teach them our language, generally being friendly and helping to put food on the table and you know what? They treated us like gods.

      Austria, 1935:
      What am I doing in this box?

      • by jafiwam ( 310805 )

        Turkey around 10,000 years ago: Well Tiddles, I don't know about you but a lot of us have had enough of this abuse, kicking us when any little thing goes wrong, tormenting us for their sport, even murdering our poor children, so we're heading out to the desert until they've evolved a bit.

        Egypt, thousands of years later: As you all know, some members of the exploration committee went in to town - and let me tell you we were all a bit scared after those tales we heard as kittens - spent a few weeks cautiously interacting with the humans and trying to teach them our language, generally being friendly and helping to put food on the table and you know what? They treated us like gods.

        Austria, 1935: What am I doing in this box?

        Simultaneously, Austria, 1935:

        ...

      • Austria, 1935: What am I doing in this box?

        Leaving.

        You've heard the story about the cat that invented time travel to get out of Schrodinger's box?

  • Turkey didn't exist 10.000 years ago. Call it Anatolia or the Black Sea Area. There's no reason to dumb down this stuff on Slashdot, is there?

    • Turkey didn't exist 10.000 years ago. Call it Anatolia or the Black Sea Area. There's no reason to dumb down this stuff on Slashdot, is there?

      Here is a correction to the article:

      *Correction, 19 June, 3:50 p.m.: The map has been updated to reflect the fact that type A cats came from Turkey, and type C from Egypt. It has been further updated because the original version mislabeled the Black Sea as the Caspian Sea.

      At least they are no longer calling the Black Sea the "Caspian Sea"!

    • Turkey didn't exist 10.000 years ago. Call it Anatolia or the Black Sea Area. There's no reason to dumb down this stuff on Slashdot, is there?

      That is ridiculous pedantry.

      On that basis 10,000 years ago "Italy" or "the United States of America" didn't exist either.

  • Makes sense since other animals and animals were domesticated in multiple places and times too. Good ideas keep happening.

  • "turning cats from territorial and antisocial creatures into the lovable furballs we know today."

    Really? Have you ever shared a home with a cat? They're pretty much the definition of territorial, and I'd substitute "sociopathic" for "antisocial". It's like TFA was written by a cat. No really, we're lovable furballs. Really. Lovable. Furballs. Now feed me immediately, or I'll wiz in your shoes. I might anyway.

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