How We Domesticated Cats (Twice)

How We Domesticated Cats (Twice)

When a group of French archaeologists landed
on the island of Cyprus in 2001, they quickly found that they were … outnumbered. Despite having a population of about 1.2 million
people, Cyprus turned out to have an even bigger population of cats. By some estimates, as many as 1.5 million
felines, including both pets and feral cats, roam the country. You can find them practically everywhere! But Cyprus is an island in the Mediterranean,
and, if you’ve ever tried to give a cat a bath, you know most of them aren’t big
fans of water. The closest mainland is Turkey, about 70 kilometers
away! So how did all of those cats get there? Well, those French archaeologists might have
found the answer. While excavating the site of an ancient settlement,
they discovered something quite surprising. It was the grave of a man who was buried alongside
offerings of flint tools, seashells and … an 8 month old cat. Dating to around 9,500 years ago, this burial
represented some of the oldest known evidence of human/cat companionships anywhere in the
world – predating the more well-known love of cats in ancient Egypt by 4,000 years! But when did this close relationship between
humans and cats start? Who were the ancestors of domesticated cats? And how did humans help cats take over Cyprus…and
eventually the world? For that, we can thank the complex process
known as domestication. And yes — even though we let them poop in
our houses and knock stuff off our counters and sometimes pee in the laundry basket for
some reason — we did domesticate them, even though it might not always feel like it. Today’s domesticated cat is its own species,
known as Felis catus. And we can trace its origins to a species
of wild cats called Felis silvestris, which is made up of five different subspecies. Based on studies of the genomes of modern
house cats, one subspecies, called Felis silvestris lybica, is the direct ancestor of all domesticated
cats today. And those wild cats — often referred to as
African wildcats — can still be found across North Africa and Southwest Asia. And as you can tell, these ancestral cats
don’t look very different from their domesticated descendants. They’re slightly larger, and they don’t
have the color variations in their coats that we see in house cats. Instead, they mostly have what are called
mackerel-tabby patterns, with stripes that run perpendicular to their spines. You can even find this same pattern in the
cats depicted in ancient Egyptian artwork. Now, these wild kitties are solitary creatures
that don’t have the same social structure that other animals, like wolves,
do. So scientists think that the domestication
of cats was probably a different process from the domestication of other animals. But unfortunately, the fossil record of African
wildcats isn’t great. Most haven’t been preserved well enough
to be used in genetic analysis, which is partly why it’s been so hard to figure out how
cat domestication actually worked. Some of the oldest known fossils include specimens
from Cyprus that are about 11,000 years old, and others in Turkey from around 10,000 years
ago. So, how did we get from Felis silvestris lybica
to Felis catus? Well, you know how hard it is to get cats
to do stuff. It took a lot of time! And we still don’t know the full picture,
but the first step is understanding the different ways in which animals can be domesticated. A species is considered to be “domesticated”
when it becomes genetically and permanently modified through human-influenced breeding. And it has to be reliant on humans on some
level, like for food and shelter. Or to clean out the litter box. And American archaeologist Dr. Melinda Zeder
has proposed that there are three pathways to domestication: the prey pathway, the directed
pathway, and the commensal pathway. In the prey pathway, wild animals are first
hunted by people. Then, in order to better control the hunts,
people begin to manage herds of the animals, like goats and cattle. This leads to captive breeding and eventually
domestication of the species. With the directed pathway, people use lessons
they learned from previous attempts at domestication, often through the prey pathway. Horses and beasts of burden, like donkeys
and camels, were most likely domesticated this way. We fast-tracked their domestication in order
to harness their abilities to walk long distances and carry heavy loads. And finally, in the commensal pathway, wild
animals are attracted to human settlements by food. They go where the people go, feeding off of
their scraps, or on prey that may have also been drawn to the humans, like mice or rats. And this eventually leads to domestication. This is probably how cats were domesticated. For thousands of years, they stayed close
to human dwellings for food, but weren’t necessarily close to the people themselves. But eventually, people noticed that cats were
actually pretty good at catching the pests that plagued their food stores, and began
to actively entice them to live in their settlements. And we can get glimpses into this process
by studying the remains of ancient kitties. For example, isotopic analysis of cat remains
from 5,600 years ago in northwestern China has revealed trace amounts of millet, a staple
grain in the diet of the human villagers there. This suggests that cats were eating the mice
that were feeding on stored millet, no doubt a useful service for the villagers! And the isotopic data from one cat revealed
a diet that had less meat and more millet than expected, suggesting that it either scavenged
from, or was fed by, the villagers…. Aww! So what did domestication, as a process, do
to change wild cats into house cats? Well, physically, domestication has made house
cats smaller than their ancestors, and resulted in new varieties in coat color and patterning. These included new variations of the tabby
coat, and the introduction of black, orange, and white colors. Most of these coat changes are fairly recent,
and came about as recessive genes in wildcats became more prominent. Then by the 19th century, scientists believe,
people started to selectively breed for more variation in markings and colors. But beyond size and color, domestication really
didn’t change the morphology of cats that much compared to, say, dogs, which have seen
major changes to their whole bodies. This is mostly because of differences in breeding
practices, as different dog breeds were bred for specific purposes. Modern cats also maintain more genetic and
behavioral similarities with their wild ancestors than most other domesticated animals do, including
behaviors related to eating and breeding. This is probably because of interbreeding
between domesticated cats and surrounding wildcat populations. But the thing is, wildcats are actually thought
to have been domesticated twice – once in southwest Asia about 10,000 years ago, and
again in Egypt, about 3,500 years ago! This is based on an analysis of the genome
of modern cats, which suggests that two different source populations contributed to the current
gene pool at two different times. And we’ve also found archaeological evidence
that supports multiple points of domestication. For example, in Egypt, six burials have been
uncovered at the site of Hierakonpolis containing two adult cats and four kittens. And they date to between 3,600 and 3,800 years
ago. Their smaller bones closely match the size
of those in domesticated cats, and one cat’s skeleton even showed healed fractures, suggesting
that it was cared for by its human companions. After about 3,000 years ago in Egypt, we can
see these relationships becoming closer, through art and iconography that show cats alongside
people. And from there, it looks like cats were brought
to Rome by early Greek settlers, as well as through interactions between Rome and Egypt. As civilizations begin to expand around 2,000
years ago, especially within the Roman Empire, cats followed as well. We know ancient Romans kept felines as pets,
based on various artworks,like mosaics, that show cats in more domestic settings, often
hunting prey. Roman cats were most likely adopted into households
to catch rodents and other pests – much like they did in the early stages of domestication. But none of this actually tells us where the
story of cat domestication started: after all If the oldest evidence of domestic cats is on the
island of Cyprus, then who brought cats to Cyprus in the first place? Well, all we know is that, at some point during
the Early Holocene Epoch, possibly 11,000 years ago, people from southwest Asia began
to migrate to Europe — including Cyprus. And they brought with them that subspecies
of cat that was the ancestor of our domesticated cats. And, cats being cats, we ended up with millions
of the little guys In modern day Cyprus, the cat population has
boomed to the point of being considered an infestation. Cats are often seen as vermin, and there have
been many attempts to get a handle on their growing population. Luckily for the feral cats, though, there
are many sanctuaries run by volunteers who try to care for every stray. But it’s not just on this island where cats
have commanded such a presence. Our relationship has been mutually beneficial
enough that domestic cats have truly taken over the world. Today their estimated overall
population of 600 million. Cats have achieved world domination, but if
it wasn’t for us, they might’ve never have left Africa and Asia. We carried them to places they otherwise might
never have seen. So maybe our pet cats should treat us with
a little more respect. Mine could’ve started by not peeing on my
laundry. But I loved him anyway. Big thanks and kitty snuggles to this month’s
Eontologists: Patrick Seifert, Jake Hart, Jon Davison Ng, and Steve! To join the Eonites, go and
pledge your support…like right meow! Kallie asked me to use those exact words! But I also want to thank you for joining me
in the Konstantin Haase Studio. Be sure to subscribe at for
more evolutionary adventures!

Comments (100)

  1. This how Africa achieved world domination

  2. I have a subject idea: what exactly are Agnostids? They are commonly grouped in with Trilobites, but there has been quite a bit of debate over whether or not Agnostids are Trilobites. If they're not Trilobites, could they be a nasal arthropod group?

  3. This proves that india (southeast asia as he mentions) was the earliest human civilization but got demolished and no evidence has been found yet.

  4. Domesticated? Ha! Cats will turn wild if given a chance.

  5. This is like how horses took over America but with cats and domestication not colonization

  6. Dogs have Masters, Cats…..Servants!:-D

  7. We did NOT domesticate cats.
    Cats domesticated US.

    Or at least some of us.
    Vile little beings.

  8. Cats aren't domesticated.

  9. The number of cats is a serious issue, their population should be controlled because it's a very invasive species and threatens biodiversity in many places

  10. this is so funny I was literally wondering how we got to domesticating cats just today probably around the exact time you posted this

  11. next you should a vid on megafauna in australia

  12. I should show this video to my cat, she has evolved enough that she is able to understand english now.

  13. How we? You must be very old

  14. Of course it's Blake who hosts the channel's cat video!

  15. Now do a video on how we domesticated dogs

  16. If humans could indeed "domesticate a cat" then we can't we domesticate other /more animals? I want to domesticate an octopus. To do the dishes.

  17. Even a human poops inside the house, …because toilets are inside houses.

    And cats are capable of learning how to use toilets (Kitty’s Loo is the best cat toilet trainer and cat toilet seat reducer) as well.

    I think cats like to be self sufficient and don’t like to be seen as a burden on others. Being able to use a toilet will grant cats their wish and really help people not see them as a burden.

  18. 4:01 "Ancient Kitties" sounds like some sort of a girl pop idol group.
    I should start a band!

  19. Congratulations on 1million!!

  20. Theres something special about cats. Theyre not like other animals. For me, theyre the most human like, altho it sounds weird

  21. I like cats more than dogs.

  22. Right meow line made me LOL 😂

  23. 3:19 when you say "beast of burden" i thought you were talking about me

  24. It's other way around

  25. The most surprising thing IMO is that hipsters settled Cyprus so long ago

  26. 0:35 "While excavating a site of ancient settlement they discovered something quite surprising: (looking at picture) a millennial man"

  27. That's why CAT > DOG

  28. Our two male cats were found recently born in our old farmhouse garage five years ago.

    They have quite diffrent behavior with each other and one even intentionally goes to the bathtub to get washed by water which so he can lick himself even when there is a water cup infront with the same water source he started to do not this not long ago, without any previous or currently rewarded by it.

  29. Watching this reminded me of my cat , he died a month ago. Almost cried & im a 30 yr old man! i m not even a cat person but that little bugger was special. RIP Paul

  30. Most wild animals are scared of man, because he is a formidable hunter. However, according to East Africans, the cat was curious. He hung around human villages and he noticed that, whenever a hunter came home, he handed over his game and his weapons to his wife. "Wow!" thought the cat. "The female of this species must be really dominant if she can disarm such a formidable hunter and take his prey without having to fight him. I'd better ingratiate myself with her." The cat therefore made friends with the woman, and the rest is history.

  31. I'm enjoying all the cute cat videos and photos in this video 😊💕

  32. According to John Aubrey* (English Antiquarian, 1600s), the word "pussycat" was derived from "Cyprus Cat", or "Prussy Cat": these were the first tabby cats seen in England ("tabby" is a corruption of "atabi" – a sort of watered silk, which their coats resemble). Until "prussy cats" were imported, John Aubrey states, English cats were "a spotted or gallipot blew".

    * The Penguin Edition of Aubrey's "Brief Lives" is a superb read: fascinating, moving, and at times hilarious. Highly recommended. Or search YouTube for "Roy Dotrice Brief Lives" to see a brilliant stage presentation of the book.

  33. Humans have always been messy creatures. Aside from our foodscraps attracting wolves, they would also have attracted smaller animals and the cats that preyed on them. It seems almost inevitable that a human would at some point try to rear orphaned kittens. The domestication of wildcats may have only occurred in two widely separated locations and times, but I suspect that it happened in any place where humans began to settle near a range occupied by wildcats

  34. Europe and Asia are connected by land Africa is separated form both of them by water…. this is fishy to say the least…

  35. Weeeee! Wonderful video, was just thinking about that the other day. And thanks for bringing the recent work on domestication to my attention, it's one of my favourite topics!

    SW-Asia ftw!

  36. Correction: How Cats Domesticated Us (Twice)

  37. Correction: How Cats Domesticated Us (Twice)

  38. Cats domesticated humans

  39. I ate cat once, not the best.

  40. Humans: makes cat pet
    9500 years later: CAT NEMES

  41. no such thing as a domesticated cat just small ones, medium ones, and large ones.

  42. Why is the commentary on so many videos delivered at 'express train' speed? Notice how he slows down when delivering the 'advert' at the end.

  43. It has been shown that the two animals you absolutely do not want to introduce to an island are domestic cats and norwegian rats. I think that just with domestic cats that become feral and overrun islands, the number of isolated species driven to extinction is more than 33.

  44. This video has the best comment section I've seen in a long time.

    I had to re-type that about four times because my cat keeps trying to lay on my iPad.

  45. Just saying, if your cat pees on your laundry, either clean that litter box or get it checked 👀

  46. i watched this while my cat lay on top of me

  47. How it really was:

    Human: has food and a small box

    Cat: crawls in box and stays for the food

  48. Have we really domesticated cats though?

  49. I saw a feral cat in a plantation yesterday, I was happy to see cats living in natural habitats.

  50. ugh i love cats. i've had so many cats in my life of all different temperaments and i learned so much from each one. i honestly think raising children with cats is a great way for them to learn about boundaries, consent, and consequences. i know i did….

  51. We didn't domesticate cats. We were just enslaved by them. And some of us are perfectly happy with that.

  52. As much as I love domestic cats, you should have also talked about the ecological impact of their presence in the wild. Especially in places like Cyprus and other islands and small land territories. Domestic cats are a huge threat to birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects so please, keep your cats indoors or in a closed yard. It's safer for them and for wildlife. You can even teach your cat to walk on a leash like a dog with enough dedication and patience.

  53. Cats were once worshipped as gods. Cats have never forgotten this.

  54. Who domesticated who?

  55. Sloooow dooown please. All pbs eons episodes are unwatchable because of the rush. Great content… but i cannot watch it.

  56. Cats have achieved world (and internet) domination. I welcome our overlords! ~Goes and cleans kitty litter box~

  57. Hacking our empathic circuits for thousands years…

  58. All hail our feline overlords. 🐱

  59. More like: "How Cats Domesticated Humans (Twice)"

  60. So you mean u can change the named of the island like cat island

  61. Pbs says we did it,twice. Natgeo says cats domesticated themselves.

  62. Someone should consider one effect cats have: Even their worst behaviours make you giggle. Cats simply are pleasant little monsters that appeal to human instincts to protect them, cuddle them, love them. Probably more so than any other animal. From the side of humans, it might just have been a love affair.
    From the side of cats, it might just have been a matter of cobvenience.
    …which means they were little bastards from day one.
    …which makes me grin.
    …which makes my point. You have to love them before you like them. And you just do.

  63. cats don't do any labor for humans really. so it does seem like felines domesticated humans

  64. Correction: “How cats domesticated humans.”

  65. Cat's:Humans pushed our evolution speed genetic variety and popullation size we are gratefull

  66. As useful as I know it is for scientific progress, I would actively haunt any archaeologist digging up the bones of my pets rather than my own.

  67. What about the dogs?

  68. Did we domesticate cats or did they domesticate us?

  69. cats are poison for humans: "Crazy cat-lady syndrome"

  70. Alvin the Chipmunk talks about cats. What's the rush?
    (He sounds better [and far more natural] at 0.75 playback speed.)

  71. Cats are an ecological scourge. Feral cats should be culled if they can’t be adopted

  72. Hang động nó ở đâu

  73. I see cat. I click

  74. Speak more slowly please. 🤨

  75. Please speak a little S L O W E R…
    I love PBS eons but your narrative is often hard to follow.

  76. And climate change deniers still thinks human action couldn't affect the natural environment at all. Which domestication and hybridization of plants/animals proofs we can.

  77. Cats are evil and dogs are gods

  78. Cyprus is Greek ! And I guess Cat! , The Turks should be kicked off

  79. 600,000,000 really isn't a very big number given that there are well over 7,000,000,000 humans

  80. There's another method of domestication which was probably used o many occasion for many animals.
    Infant animals were probably often taken from the wild and raised by, and thus among, humans.
    In the cases of cats and certainly dogs this was probably repeatedly done throughout the centuries..

  81. You know what they say, there's nothing new under the sun.. Everything is a circle..its true, if you want to take in a stray cat, you just entice it by food..

  82. Felis Catus? that sounds like something monty python made up

  83. My cat had 3 kittens, she absolutely loved me. I also have 3 Wolf dogs (sire and two male pups, now 6). The second each kitten was born(on my bed!), my dogs started grooming individual kittens they picked. I was not in the room. I came in and my largest boy was perched over momma kitty, I was terrified but he was cleaning "his kitten". To this day each one of my dogs has its own cat or visa versa. I ask them where their baby is and they will find their cat. When we come home, the cats greet the dogs, then me. If the dogs stay outside a minute to long the cats sound like they're dying. Then the dogs come groom their cats and the cats purr and head bunt the dogs while I sit here like a jackass. I mean they all like me but prefer and even sleep with their dogs.

  84. When I lived in S. China for a while, I was surprised to find that cats were waaaay smaller. I thought one was not full grown, still kittenish, only to find out is was a mommy cat.

  85. I kill cockroaches for my cat who hates it so much.

  86. Dogs are fully domesticated but cats only partially so. Dogs have masters while cats have staff.

  87. Me and French Archaeologists looking at the same evidence:

    Archaeologists: This cat was buried as a ritual sacrifice when its owner died.

    Me: This human was buried when he couldn't bear living after his kitty-cat died.

  88. Please control your cats before they wipe out all the bird

  89. Why do I have to be allergic to cats though

  90. Maybe they should make a video about what the biggest dinosaur is?

  91. a significant evolutionary change in such a relatively short time, just 11 kya, maybe 35
    I thought evolution took 10 or a hundred times that?

  92. Jaw drop Only 600-million cats, but 7-billion humans?!? Guys there aren't enough cats to go around!!! And no one can have mine!

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