Many cat lovers have wondered where their feline companions are from. Many people have theorized that humans welcomed cats into our proximity because of the felines penchant for eating mice and rats. (Others might say that cats condescended to reside among us because our grain storehouses attracted their prey animals.) Once we were in close proximity, our natural affinities for each other meant it was only a matter of time before we became companions. (I should admit that humans may have done more to drive the transition, at least at first, than cats.)
But where and when did this happen? Where did the process start?
An article in the spring, 2008 issue of UC Davis Magazine reports on the results of a study that appears to answer those questions. Genetic testing was used to identify the origins of the house cat. From the article:
For the study, the scientists collected samples of cheek cells from more than 11,000 cats. These cats represented 17 populations of randomly bred cats from Europe, the Mediterranean, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, as well as 22 recognized breeds.
For the record, collection of cheek cells is not painful and does not harm the cat involved.
After analyzing the tests, the researchers concluded that feline domestication started 5,000 8,000 years ago. The results suggested that cats and humans began intensively intermingling in the Fertile Crescent region (an area that includes northern Africa, Turkey, and the Tigris and Euprhates river basins).
The article points out that the Fertile Crescent region is thought to be the location in which the human species converted to agriculture from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Farming led to surplus grains in storage areas. The grains attracted mice and rats, and the rodents attracted cats. The rest was history.