There were Viking cats

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News you can use: New research now suggests that cats spread through human society, with the second wave involving sea-faring people such as the Vikings.

The first wave is a story you’re probably familiar with. When the team looked the mitochondrial DNA – genetic information that’s passed on from the mother only – they found that wild cats from the Middle East and the fertile eastern Mediterranean shared a similar mitochondrial lineage.

This suggests that small wild cats spread through early agricultural communities, because they were attracted to the mice that were attracted to the grains. The farmers likely encouraged their presence, because, let’s face it, those rodent-killing machines would have been mighty cute company.

Then, thousands of years after this, the research points to a separate mitochondrial connection between cats descended from those in Egypt to ones in Eurasia and Africa. “A mitochondrial lineage common in Egyptian cat mummies from the end of the 4th century BC to the 4th century AD was also carried by cats in Bulgaria, Turkey and sub-Saharan Africa from around the same time,” Callaway reports.

This second wave of expansion has been attributed to ancient sea-faring people – farmers, sailors, and Vikings – because the cats were likely encouraged to stay on board to keep their rodent problem in check.

It makes perfect sense. Our ruling lords needed more space, and thus they compelled humans to begin the great explorations that eventually allowed them to conquer the western hemisphere, as well as the internet.



  • Localfluff

    Lions lived wild in Greece during the Trojan war 3000 years ago. Even in Arctic environments there are wild cats around, although very shy. The only thing I (think) I’ve seen of them in Scandinavia is highly reflective eyes at a few occasions. It was evidently the Mediterranean farmers who tamed them.

    I grew up with a pitch black cat when I was as small as it was big. Several times it jumped me and scratched me with its claws while biting. If it could’ve killed me it would’ve! No doubt about that, I can say first hand. It went missing months in a row and then came home limping with one eye gone, to regroup its continuous attack on whatever is edible and yet alive out there in the forests. Cats are tough. It’s no coincidence that kings like to use them as their symbols.

  • wayne

    One of the earliest mentions of cat’s in the new world, comes from:
    William Wood
    “New England’s Prospects”
    >>detailing how cats saved the Colony one Winter, from hungry squirrel’s and chipmunk’s invading their store’s.

    Serendipitously, I’ve only ever kept black Cat’s. (3 over a 40 year period) The short-hair’s interestingly, always shed more than the long-haired model.
    “Black Cat Factoid,”– heavy sun exposure in the Summer tends to give their hair an auburn/reddish color tint, which fades back to black as Fall kicks in.

  • MarcusZ1967

    From the many feline overlords I’ve had, it never failed to get me a distaining look when I asked where they came from

  • Peter Francis

    …. and all this is why I only have canine underlords.

  • Localfluff

    Yeah, the Indians didn’t farm, did they, so they had no use of cats. Although they had jaguars that could’ve taken care of the wolfs and the Europeans and themselves.

    I remember vividly from my childhood big black cat trauma, how it, when it realized that it wouldn’t be able to kill me for the moment, gradually released its grip and then casually walked around me, hugging me and asking: “-Do you have any milk for me?” (My mom loved it as much as me, because it was charming and I was trouble.)

    Like general von Catzewitz concluded:
    – If you can’t eat’em, eat’em!

  • wayne

    This is from memory so I’ll probably botch it–(it’s ‘truthiness”)
    North American indigenous cat’s (‘wild’) originated over the land bridge in the Bearing Strait’s, then dispersed south (all the way). Ice Age activity narrows the scope & variety considerably (which is why we don’t have Lion’s & Tiger’s in N. America. [but we do have Bear’s]
    Domesticated European Cat’s arrive with the first explorer’s and they can interbreed with some but not all of our indigenous Model’s. (Spanish brought cat’s to mexico & California earlier on.)
    -Good point about “agriculture,” –if you had a farm in N. America, you had at least a 1/2 dozen ‘barn-cat’s (plus the ones you let inside your house)

    A Herd of Fainting Goats
    Outrageous Acts of Science

  • wayne and Localfluff: I must point out that it is incorrect to say the American Indians did not farm. In the eastern United States they most certainly did, though their farming techniques were different that those of the Europeans. Rather than clear farmland, they would periodically cause forest fires that would clear out the brush and leave the trees within the forest more spread out. They would then grow their vegetables within these sparsely wooded areas.

    Obviously, they did not have barns, so no “barn” cats. But the lack of cats was not because they did not farm. It was because cats had not yet arrived to conquer them.

  • wayne

    Mr. Z.,
    (is it still 100 degrees in Arizona?)

    Yes– you are correct. I didn’t intend that they (early Indian’s) had zero agriculture, or merely lacked a nice stereotypic Midwest Barn with silo, etc., If I recall however, that method of farming was not much above subsistence and they had relatively primitive tools compared to say, their European counterparts.
    [the whole ‘origin of agriculture’ Topic for the northern hemisphere, is really interesting, but I’m way fuzzy on it. Even more fuzzy on early American’s (early, like the Clovis peoples)
    –just to agree with ‘Fluff that “the more farm surplus produced & stored, the more rodents, the more cats.”
    –I should also have said, we have ‘mountain lions,’ in N. America but I believe they are not directly related to said African variant.
    (say, didn’t we have a dog-genetic thread last month?)

  • wodun

    Native Americans in the inland Pacific Northwest also engaged in types of farming. They cultivated Camas plots. They too would burn to clear the land so the Camas could thrive and also pulled out poisonous species of plants that look like Camas at the root level. I am sure they did similar things for other plants but this is the example that springs to mind.

    It is a lot like how farming started for other populations.

    Also, they didn’t just clear land to grow crops but to improve habitat for animals they hunted. Coastal tribes up in Canada would modify bays and inlets too in order to farm clams and other seafood.

  • wayne: The Indian’s farming was quite sophisticated, though yes, it did not produce much surplus. However, this lack of surplus was a conscious and practical decision because they didn’t really have good storage methods.

  • Col Beausabre

    Ahem, the Aztecs gave the world Maize and Turkeys, the Incas the Potato (which they knew how to preserve dried – chuno – which will keep for an extended period) in what is known as the Great Columbian Exchange (Tomatoes, Cacao and Peppers also crossed the pond). The agriculture of both peoples was at least equal to the Europeans


    An excellent documentary about Europe and America in 1491 is “America Before Columbus”

  • Edward

    wayne mentioned: “the whole ‘origin of agriculture’ Topic for the northern hemisphere, is really interesting …

    The agricultural revolution in Europe, especially England, provided surpluses that allowed for such an excess population that an industrial revolution in Europe occurred less than half a millennium later. Crop rotation (e.g. wheat, oats, barley) allowed farmers to grow crops on all their land every year, without the need to keep fields fallow every other year. However, until about a century ago, England had a law that farmers keep their land fallow every other year. The law can take a long time to catch up with technology.

    I took a class on the agricultural and industrial revolutions, and that was an interesting class. They did not mention the role of cats in agriculture or food storage, though.

    It is clear to me that specifically because of its agricultural revolution Europe dominated the world from the 16th century until the 20th century, when domination went out of style.

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