Where Do Domestic Cats Come From?

Where Do Domestic Cats Come From?

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Cats. We know that they like to chase lasers and
lick their own butts. But there is a lot we don’t know about
cute little Whiskers, like where her cuddly, domestic ancestors came from, and when she
evolved from wild animals. We used to think that the earliest historical
evidence for domestic cats was from ancient Egypt, like art and mummified remains from
around 4000 years ago. But now some clues are pointing to domestic
kitties older than that, from separate places across the globe. The oldest probably-domestic cat skeleton
we’ve found was in 2001, on the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean sea. Scientists guessed that this cat lived around
9500 years ago, which makes sense historically. That’s after people had started farming
in the Fertile Crescent, that not-totally-desert region in parts of western Asia and northern
Africa. Farming means you have to store extra
crops somewhere, and piles of tasty grain attract rodents. And for hungry cats, that’s an all-you-can-eat
buffet. So one hypothesis is that feral cats might’ve
started snagging some meals, and getting cozy with humans. Humans were happy to have them, too, because they took care of the pests, and were fluffy and cute. By this time, we think humans had domesticated other animals like dogs, cattle, and sheep, so adding another furry friend wouldn’t
seem all that unusual. And we think this cat from Cyprus was a pet
for a couple of reasons: First of all, Cyprus is an island with no
native cats, so someone must have brought them over on a boat. And, if they weren’t a little tame, that would have been a scratchy, panicky animal mess. Like, you might know how hard it can be to
get an uncontrollable kitty just to the vet and back. Plus, the cat was buried with a person, presumably
its owner, and surrounded with carved seashells. Wild animals wouldn’t get this special treatment,
and if the cat was a meal, its bones would’ve been separate and probably scattered. All of this evidence lines up with a study published in the journal Science in 2007, which looked at the genetic origins of domestic cats. Those researchers found that our feline friends
are are most closely related to the wildcat Felis silvestris, specifically, the Near Eastern subspecies. Your eyes, also, if you look at this cat,
will back this evidence up because they look a lot like domestic cats. So, lots of signs point to domestic cats splitting off from their wildcat cousins in the Fertile Crescent. But hold on. Some other scientists discovered probably-domestic
cat bones in 2001, in an ancient millet farming village in central China. A close computer analysis of the jaw bone
shapes showed that these cats weren’t related to the wildcat at all. Instead, they were a kind of leopard cat – which
is in an entirely different genus. From small animal tunnels throughout the excavation
site, and ceramic containers that looked like they stored grain, the researchers were pretty
sure that this village had a rodent problem. And by looking at the carbon isotopes in cats’
bones, it was clear that they ate lots of small animals that ate lots of human-grown millet. This was the first convincing evidence to
support the “domestic cats eat pests that eat grain” hypothesis. But this domestication happened in different
kinds of cats, around 5300 years ago, on the other side of this huge landmass. So, what’s the real story? The Middle Eastern or the Chinese domestication
of cats? Well, there’s no reason that domestication
couldn’t have happened twice in two separate places with two separate cat species when
people started farming grain. But, remember? Genetically, all our modern cats seem to be descended from the wildcat, not the leopard cat. Maybe the domestic wildcats were just snugglier
and had a leg up to win our favor. See, domestication leaves its fingerprints
in an animal’s genome. So even though any cat person will joke that their cats are are too independent to really be considered domesticated, we can look at these
genetic fingerprints. A 2014 collaboration between a bunch of American
universities took a close look at the domestic cat genome, using 22 different breeds from
different places. The study found recent changes in genes that control the development of the cat’s nervous system. These genes could play a role in how domestic
cats, for example, behave less defensively in new situations, and can change their behavior
in response to rewards. In other words, compared to a wildcat, Fluffy
is genetically more likely to walk up to you with a friendly headbutt and beg for treats. This could explain why our cats are extra
snuggly: the ones that got along best with humans could take advantage of our rodent
pests and table scraps, and survived to pass on their genes. So, in a way, cats did domesticate themselves. And it seems like they did it more than one
time. Which kind of means, that the rise of cat videos was practically inevitable. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow,
which was brought to you by our patrons on Patreon. Those are people who decide to give us money
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100 thoughts on “Where Do Domestic Cats Come From?

  • Megadriver Post author

    Cats are the only species of animal that have domesticated themselves…
    They are fully capable of surviving without our help, they just like having a lazy, luxury lifestyle with us.
    Cats found lots of prey to snack on near humans in the distant past and became closer to us. We, as humans were happy we got free pest control and a fluffy, purring thing to pet and have around. So with cats, they chose to be with us.

  • Lady Silverwynde Post author

    How it probably happened-
    (Ancient farming area, before written records exist)
    Cat: "You gonna eat that?"
    Human: "Those rats? The ones that eat our food? Nah, you can help yourself."
    Cat: "Cool."
    (Next day)
    Cat: "I'm gonna have a litter of kittens. Mind if I hang out here?"
    Human: "Well, as long as you keep eating those rats, sure."
    Cat: "Cool."
    (Next day)
    Cat: "I'm gonna go hunt some rats. Mind watching the kittens for me?"
    Human: "Holy crap! These are the cutest things I've ever seen! You can, like, crash here permanently!"
    Cat: "Cool."

  • A random Youtuber Post author

    My theory before I watch the video is that we domesticated cats to catch small animals such as mice because dogs couldn’t abd because they are so damn cute

  • Ed Camp Post author

    Love my old buddy with my old cat..

  • Alshiva K Post author

    my cat is NAMED fluffy….

  • Das Berserker Post author

    9500 years ago Allright, allright, all of us, let's just pretend we care for those humans, as they seem foolish enough to care for us. Puny humans…

  • Virtuozzo! Post author

    thumbs up if you are watching this with your cat in your lap!

  • Ben Lin Post author

    Cat are the one that domesticated us , fake news 😂🤣

  • Pixelfire86 Post author

    I watched this video with my wonderful feline friend snuggled up in my armpit…ah, what a life

  • The Jakob Hallett Nerve Centre Post author

    Great video, pal. I just adore my two little kitties and all things cat related!

  • Gaurav Gupta Post author

    Felis Silvestris is the full name of Sylvester from Looney Tunes

  • Zes Jerome Post author

    no such thing as frienx or not, happyx no matter what

  • Rotting Pork Post author

    I’m here just to watch all the cat lovers exclaim how cats are pretty much just controlling us

  • Jeremy Cornwell Post author

    You try to #domesticated me, I stop being #civilised.

  • john harris Post author

    I luv my kitty partners. Fantastically interesting, they've got a good thing going, living with people!

  • Josie Post author

    Dogs Drool, Cats rule! 😁

  • SektundSchnee Post author

    If your assertion that cats first joined human company chasing rodents in our hay, then the cats weren’t feral…

  • witchdoctor Post author

    Sounds like the guy is interrupting himsel- Audio editing software is goo- But you have to understan- Basic pacing first before gett- Too aggressive with the editing

  • snacky 1253 Post author

    They come from our hearts

  • Legend 28 Post author

    So, did "domestication" change the human genome?

  • Howard Delovitch Post author

    From "Domesticated" Humans doing unto others………..as it has been done to them.

  • king james488 Post author


  • Peter Franck Post author

    A feral cat is a descendant of a domesticated cat, so the first domesticated cats must have come from wild cats.

  • infinitecanadian Post author

    And now cats are a major invasive species, second possibly only to Man himself.

  • philip norris Post author

    Cats are great in their way, but I am more a dog person myself.

  • Phil Morton Post author

    Yep cat videos on the internet was certainly inevitable, cats just have to be the center of attention because their so darn cute!

  • David M Post author

    "Cats are the most beautiful decoration in any home."

    While I love my dog, and all small furry animals, I am a cat person.

  • Iz mark Post author

    Damn Cats. They make me, boo hoo, love em so much. tears.
    Symbiosis = interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.
    To bad we can't tame cancer to be a benefit.

  • asygamer_7s # Post author


  • Lucas Ferreira Post author

    Cats: "i'm inevitable"

  • E Loesch Post author

    Dogs rule, cats drool! 😂

  • Oleksiy Alkhazov Post author


  • C J Bowen Post author

    i caught half bobcat kittens and sort of domesticated them. one female had beautiful brindle manx kittens which i then bred to unrelated cats and had really great fun cats that were relentless hunters and perfectly happy to live as a pride of barn cats

  • harry viking Post author

    Cats are a threat to everything that moves and are smaller than its self! Cats should not be allowed as pets, only for places infested with rats/mice!

  • PsychoEspeon Post author

    We got domestic cats from jungles but giving wild ocelots raw fish

  • Apexraptor327 Post author

    Every cat picture in this video is adorable who agrees?

  • tokiobabe99 Post author

    RIGHT before I got play on this video, a cat yowled like it got hurt.

  • Deejay SlowMotion Post author

    Cats are great at pest control that's a fact!! My cat even guards my ducks from rat attacks, and he'll never harm my ducks in doing so.. He takes his job very seriously and thanks to him my duck is now giving birth to numerous ducklings

  • REW Post author

    Cat aren't really domesticated! They are tamed. Dogs are domesticated. Dogs have been bred specifically to perform certain jobs and tasks and enjoy doing so to please us. Cats are basically tiny tigers that choose not to attack us in our sleep! because we give them food and scratch their bellies!! And will alow us to live in their homes as long as we continue to do so!!!!!!

  • M.J. de Bruin Post author

    A lot of Gene's ( plant and animal Gene's)are traced back to that area, near mount Ararat, where the bible says Noah's ark stranded after the flood. The sumerian story of creation shines more light on this. Very interesting.

  • Sal Vastola Post author

    House cats come from wild cats.

  • Glenn Laroche Post author

    Our feline overlords have been in charge for thousands of years, and we are better for it.
    All hail Cattos!!!

  • Alex Baldwin Post author

    Bold of you to assume cats are domesticated! 😜😜

  • Rich Nokes Post author


  • KittySnicker Post author

    The African one looks much more like today’s cats than the Asian one

  • Tubmaster 5000 Post author

    We didn't domesticate cats. They domesticated us.

  • Flux it Post author

    the greatest conspiracy of all time is that cats domesticated us, they buried their human pets with them when they passed to serve them in the afterlife. They just let us think we domesticated them.

  • Mike Keller Post author

    I actually have the real history of cat domestication. It's not taught because it's a diverse path and could be confusing. If you want to know, send me $80 for the answer

  • Themistokles V Post author

    Hank , are you brothers with John Green?

  • Mark Garin Post author

    Might have been easier to DNA test the Chinese cat version…but they were all eaten.

  • Gary Mckee Post author

    Cats are small cute demons.

  • N Neichan Post author

    Most important Vid yet!

  • Jeremy Backman Post author

    From what I understand we never "domesticated " them we just bread them to be small enough not to kill us , there is zero difference mentally between a housecat and a tiger raised in captivity.

  • puttputt524 Post author

    Sometimes I don’t even think Egyptians worshipped cats. They just thought cats were hilarious.

  • ninthRing Post author

    I've had several pet cats over my entire lifetime & have spent many hours observing their fascinating behavior & interacting with them.

    One thing that they do – regular as clockwork –
    (which I'm sure anyone who's had a pet cat knows) is come up to me and meow quite loudly whenever I'm talking on a telephone. I've always suspected that they're responding to something in my speech & tone of voice (which subtly alters when I'm talking with someone on the 'phone), that makes them think that I'm talking to them, so they respond. (It's not like they can understand what a phone is, after all.)

    Some research that I've read implies that domesticated cats are profoundly more vocal than their wild cousins, with patterns specific for things around them (almost words) & that this may be a result of their millennia long interaction with humans.They lack both the intellectual capacity & vocal structures that would allow them to both fully comprehend & reproduce human speech, but they can demonstrably recognise specific sounds that we make (eg: their name).

    I talk to my cat all the time, and while I may be anthropomorphising just a bit, I do think that he has some level of understanding – of my tone, if not recognising the meaning of specific words (just say the word "chicken" and expect to have a furry black blur jump up & try to peer down your throat, while sniffing intently). I'm familiar with specific types of meows for a mother calling her kittens, a cat seeing food that it really likes & an unique hiccuping growl used on seeing birds (prey).

    I suspect that in the near future advanced genetic engineering will allow us to vastly augment their intellects, as well as their capacity to understand & (to a degree) reproduce human languages – perhaps even giving them simian levels of dexterity. Though this would obviously need to follow some strict ethical guidelines to avoid a moral quagmire.

    ~ ~ ~

    There is one question about cats which I'd really like an answer to & would appreciate you investigating:
    "How can cats spend so much time sleeping or inactive, yet avoid atrophication of their musculature – actually retaining extraordinary muscle densities & remarkable acrobatic capabilities? "

    Were a human to spend even a fraction of the time being as inactive as a cat, their muscles would waste away & their bones would become as fragile as chalk. There have actually been some long term studies where human experimental subjects spent many months prone in a bed & the results were pretty graphic (NASA studies into the potential effects of low gravity). Humans just aren't designed to be inactive, yet cats achieve 18 hours+ a day lazing or sleeping with ease.

  • G-Luke Post author

    Cat: I am….Inevitable
    *snaps paws*


    More than likely, domestication took place multiple times, in ALL cases, animal OR plant – it's funny how humans are prone to accept only all-linear, once-in-eternity developments, don't even consider multi-event processes leading to a present-day state of affairs…why in hell would one and only one time someone had a particular idea? Say, roll over a log something too heavy to be dragged, then cutting the log into slices to make wheels? Would this REALLY occur to one single illuminated mind, or would it have occurred to many, many different individuals in many, many different places, at different times, while trying to solve just exactly the same problem…? If neodarwinian evolution justifies a RANDOM genetic process to reach convergent-evolution similar biological solutions for similar problems in completely UNRELATED organisms, would similarly "intelligent" (for lack of a better word…) apes need to wait for a SINGLE attempt to be successful at solving a common problem, then waiting for the news to spread…?

  • Cameron Sanderson18 Post author

    nice bro

  • wildcatter63 Post author

    What about Chow Chows? They are re-incarnated cats that are pissed off about the demotion (and were probably from a different wolf domestication to dog incident than the non-Asiatic breeds)

  • crazycatlady39 Post author

    So we benefitted cats moreso then them benefiting us. Cool!

  • Richard Hunt Post author

    Cats were once revered as God's !!
    Cats have not forgotten this !! 😶

  • Some Guy Post author

    "Where do domestic cats come from?" Pet stores and animal shelters.

  • The Garden of Eatin Post author

    I'm pretty sure the first cat looked at humans and thought "Yeah, sure. These guys look like they'll invent the cardboard box some day."

  • Stickman Post author

    Same as all domestic animals. Humans found them useful and bred them for their own use.

  • KreigsMarine2 Post author

    A dog is a pet……you live with a cat.

  • Chris Boucher Post author

    Hey if it was safe to lick my own butt and I could, might cut down on water use… just sayin'.

  • Marguerite Johnson Post author

    Our Belgian Shepherd puppy was brought up by three cats. I swear he would sit on command.

  • lucette5 Post author

    This guy waves his hands around as much as Beto O’Rourke does when talking

  • Seán O'Nilbud Post author

    Cats are vermin, like their owners.

  • Dark Rainbow Post author

    This is point-for-point the Wikipedia article on cats. You read it. I read it. Hank read it.

  • Comrade Danny Post author

    So cool to realize cats brought their human pets to Cyprus.

  • Game ON Case Post author

    Lol I think humans and cats evolved together , your idea of us domesticating them is funny , my theory is our caveman ancestors had to feed the large cats or they’d be eaten by them

  • NyarlathotepTheGreat Post author

    there is a myth that says cats are descendants of ghosts because their origin is unknown.

  • OJSeph Post author

    "Why is your arm scratched?"

    "Because my cat can't take a joke"

  • doggos and cattos Post author

    I love my fluffies 🐱🐈

  • Tony .w Post author

    they come from peoples houses and so do the wild ones ..mostly..and their main focus is to kill ..nibble on a few tidbits.. then go kill again

  • me meme Post author

    I don't know where they come from but I do know where they go when they come and use my yard as a toilet.

  • Thread Bomb Post author

    One day a cat will figure out how to post cat videos online.

  • PuffinTuff Post author

    So cats have been keep pet humans for longer than we first thought.

  • Pamela Mays Post author

    Cats so cool, they domesticated themselves. They chose to live with humans.
    "Lot of rodents. Some leftover human food once in a while. A warm fire to snuggle up next to on a cold night. Yeah, this place will do just fine."

  • Petr Fedor Post author

    Just wonder what happened with domestic leopard cats…

  • david seward Post author

    It's hilarious how science tries explaining things. Yet they really have no idea

  • Sean Price Post author

    cats domesticated us.

  • Winston Paul Post author

    God ❗️

  • Brian Alonso Post author

    Thisbguy is a cat in a humans costume

  • Truth Be Told Post author

    So it sounds to me like cats and dogs became domesticated for much of the same reasons. Dogs likely wandered into human settlements in search of food and were kept around for their hunting abilities. Sounds pretty much identical to the origin of domestic cats.

  • Qi Chen Post author

    Well, Chinese ancient record did say why the ones descended from Chinese leopard cats eventually got displaced by domestic cat from near east. It's because China is also the place where chicken is first domesticated and the Chinese leopard cat variant…can take down adult chickens. There is actually Chinese records of owners complaining that instead of going after rodents, the leopard cat will go after chickens, which are vital sources of protein for the ancient Chinese. The near east domestic variant, on the other hand, generally can't kill adult chickens (or prefer not to go after them) and hens can chase off the near east domestic cat to protect the chicks.

  • Doc242424 Post author

    This dude has the classic waistline wider than shoulders problem…

  • cheezymuffin Post author

    well lots of place,
    shelter, breeders, or they just follow you from the street home and now you have 5 cats

  • Daniel Logan-Scott Post author

    So Rudyard Kipling was right.

  • 7ARAMMY MJNOON Post author

    My cousin killed three domestic cats because they ate his parrots

  • Shirou Tokisada Amakusa Kotomine Post author

    Drinking Game: Everytime Hank says Cat or Cats.

  • Loulovesspeed Post author

    Where do domestic cats come from?  That's easy, they're from the far away, isolated Greek island of Domestica. LOL

  • Edie Reinhardt Post author

    Simple. They're aliens.

  • infinitecanadian Post author

    Domestic cats are a pest, made all the worse because so many people are too ignorant to keep them inside.

  • Max Xam Post author

    The biggest mistake of mankind: the donestication of cats.

  • The King Post author

    I love cats

  • LaDolceVita0ASIA Post author


  • Sopita Ramen con Apio Post author

    I kick a cat right in the face anytime it’s in my way.

  • Gregory Garcia Post author

    I've always have had cats. The big fun is when the bird calls the cats by name. The big boy cat looks at me like, "did he just say that".

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