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Human-mediated dispersal of cats in the Neolithic Central Europe

Heredityvolume 121pages557563 (2018) | Download Citation


Archeological and genetic evidence suggest that all domestic cats derived from the Near Eastern wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) and were first domesticated in the Near East around 10,000 years ago. The spread of the domesticated form in Europe occurred much later, primarily mediated by Greek and Phoenician traders and afterward by Romans who introduced cats to Western and Central Europe around 2000 years ago. We investigated mtDNA of Holocene Felis remains and provide evidence of an unexpectedly early presence of cats bearing the Near Eastern wildcat mtDNA haplotypes in Central Europe, being ahead of Roman period by over 2000 years. The appearance of the Near Eastern wildcats in Central Europe coincides with the peak of Neolithic settlement density, moreover most of those cats belonged to the same mtDNA lineages as those domesticated in the Near East. Thus, although we cannot fully exclude that the Near Eastern wildcats appeared in Central Europe as a result of introgression with European wildcat, our findings support the hypothesis that the Near Eastern wildcats spread across Europe together with the first farmers, perhaps as commensal animals. We also found that cats dated to the Neolithic period belonged to different mtDNA lineages than those brought to Central Europe in Roman times, this supports the hypothesis that the gene pool of contemporary European domestic cats might have been established from two different source populations that contributed in different periods.

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We acknowledge Anna Baca for her help in editing and proofreading of the manuscript. Cat remains from Perspektywiczna Cave and Shelter in Smoleń III were collected during field works supported by the National Science Centre, Poland, grant numbers 2011/01/N/HS3/01299 and 2014/15/D/HS3/01302, and radiocarbon dating was supported by the National Science Centre, Poland, grant number 2014/13/D/HS3/03842. MB was supported by the National Science Centre, Poland, grant number 2015/19/D/NZ8/03878.

Author contributions

MB and MK conceived and coordinated the study; MK, MTK, AM, AN and DM provided samples and radiocarbon dating; DP, HP, PW and MB participated in laboratory work; MB and DP carried out the phylogenetic analyses; MB, MK and MTK wrote the manuscript with significant input from all the authors. All authors gave final approval for publication.

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Author notes

  1. These authors contributed equally: Mateusz Baca and Danijela Popović.


  1. Laboratory of Paleogenetics and Conservation Genetics, Centre of New Technologies, University of Warsaw, Banacha 2c, 02-079, Warsaw, Poland

    • Mateusz Baca
    • , Danijela Popović
    •  & Piotr Węgleński
  2. Museum and Institute of Zoology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Wilcza 64, 00-679, Warsaw, Poland

    • Hanna Panagiotopoulou
  3. Department of Paleozoology, Institute of Environmental Biology, University of Wroclaw, Sienkiewicza 21, 50-335, Wrocław, Poland

    • Adrian Marciszak
  4. Institute of Archaeology, Faculty of History, Nicolaus Copernicus University, Szosa Bydgoska 44/48, 87-100, Torun, Poland

    • Magdalena Krajcarz
    •  & Daniel Makowiecki
  5. Institute of Geological Sciences, Polish Academy of Sciences, Research Centre in Warsaw, Twarda 51/55, 00-818, Warsaw, Poland

    • Maciej T. Krajcarz
  6. Institute of Systematics and Evolution of Animals, Polish Academy of Sciences, Sławkowska 17, 31-016, Krakow, Poland

    • Adam Nadachowski


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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mateusz Baca.

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