They often have a funny way of showing their affection, but domestic cats may owe their love of curling up on human laps to the ancient Egyptians.
A genetic study on feline remains dating back 9,000 years has revealed a lineage of cats from Egypt began spreading around the world around 3,000 years ago.
These creatures interbred with local animals and left distinct DNA that persist in our pets to this day.
The scientists behind the research believe the Egyptian cats were so successful because they had developed traits that made them better ’companions’ than other types of wildcat.
They say ancient Egyptians and those trading with them may have transported these cats in ships to far off ports, allowing the animals to pass on genes that made their descendants friendlier to humans.
Dr Eva-Maria Geigl, a molecular anthropologist at the Jacques Monod Institute in Paris and research director at the French National Research Centre CNRS, said: ’The peculiar social and cultural context of the Egyptian society may have facilitated the evolution of a more ’friendly’ disposition of cats towards humans.
’Their popularity as a companion animal, together with its role as pest control agent on ships, might have determined the success of the Egyptian cat in spreading along trade routes.’
The research, which is published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, gives the first detailed look at the genetics underlying early cat domestication.
Unlike dogs, which were domesticated at least 14,600 years ago, cat were domesticated relatively late.