When and Where Cats Evolved
In the past, archaeological evidence has led experts to believe that the cat was first domesticated in Egypt only about 2000 years ago. (For example, see "The Cat Through Evolution" from Provet Healthcare Information.) This is astonishingly recent compared to other domesticated species. Analysis of feline DNA has led to serious reconsideration of both the time and place of cat domestication.
The wildcat, F. silvestris, consists of five subspecies, corresponding to five worldwide populations, which are reproductively isolated from one another by geography. In 2007, a group of researchers published a genetic study of all five populations along with domesticated cats, totalling 979 individual animals.
This genetic analysis showed that all domestic cats descended only from F. silvestris lybica, not the European Wildcat (F. silvestris silvestris) or any of the other subspecies. Mitochondrial DNA evidence shows at least five founders—ancestral individuals whose DNA is present in modern populations. Domestication was shown to have taken place not in Egypt, but in the Near East, most likely in the Fertile Crescent at the same time as the development of agriculture.
The analysis could not show exactly when cats began living with humans; it was only able to place a date very approximately at about 10,000 years ago, in line with most other domesticated animals. This result is consistent with archaeological evidence from Cyprus showing a close association between cats and humans from at least 9500 years ago.