An archaeological and historical review of the relationship between felids and people. - NMS Research Repository
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Journal article

An archaeological and historical review of the relationship between felids and people.

9 September 2009


A review of the archaeological and historical records reveals several lines of evidence that people have had close relationships with felids. Almost 40% of felid species have been tamed on all continents, excluding Europe and Oceania, but only one species was domesticated. However, taming occurred mostly in five felid lineages, mostly in South and Central America, and Southwest Asia and North Africa, which is consistent with the early development of permanent human settlements and agriculture in these regions. In the Old World, probably since the beginning of the Neolithic, the first farmers encouraged commensal small carnivorans, which had been attracted either by rodent pests or scavenging opportunities. Recent genetic evidence supports archaeological evidence for the domestic cat's origin in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia. However, full domestication may have occurred only in ancient Egypt, where breeding of imported Mesopotamian wildcats may have been controlled, thereby allowing artificial selection, and suggesting that putative early domestic cats were most probably tamed wildcats. As there was no tameable, small felid in Europe, other indigenous carnivorans, such as mustelids, viverrids, and herpestids, were tamed instead. They were slowly replaced as the domestic cat spread gradually throughout Europe, principally with the Romans. The wildcat was fully domesticated, owing probably to a specific set of human cultural events and requirements, rather than as a consequence of a unique tendency to tameness in some populations of Felis silvestris. The global spread of the domestic cat probably obviated the need for domestication of other small felids elsewhere.


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