So this is the internet and thus it was only a matter of time before I had to write something about cats. And here we have it, fresh from the Journal of Archaeological Science.

It is proposed that cat domestication originated somewhere around the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago as a way to manage rats in the newly established grain storehouses. Back then they used to work for us. However, in Egypt, there has never been evidence for cats kept as pets before 2000 BC. Until now.

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New cat skeletons have been unearthed in Hierakonopolis, a region on the west bank of the Nile described by the authors as a "large Predynastic site consisted of domestic quarters, industrial zones and ceremonial centres as well as cemeteries for the different strata of society." The remains, made up of two adult cats and 4 kittens, are now thought to be 6000 years old, predating previous finds by two millenia.

It is actually a non-trivial matter to distinguish domestic cats from their wild brethren using only skeletal remains, so I found the author's analysis pretty interesting. They first looked at the jaw bones, which vary in shape between wild and domestic cats. For further confirmation, a set of criteria, stemming from a 2007 work and revolving around the size ratio of various bones, was employed. There is, however, some debate as to the validity of these criteria when applied to African cats as they were derived for European varieties.

They then deduced the ages of all the cats by looking at their teeth and growth plates. This evidence suggested that more than one litter of kittens was being born each year, a statistic not observed in wild cats. Finally, the location of the burial relative to the city walls was consistent with an association with the settlement.

So it's really no surprise that cats have managed to dominate the internet to such an extent. They've been building up to this, learning our weaknesses for cheezeburgers and grumpy faces, for 6000 years.

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Read the full study, More evidence for cat taming at the Predynastic elite cemetery of Hierakonpolis (Upper Egypt), here.