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five hundred years
domesticated cats
goddess of beauty
food offerings
DNA Evidence Shows Domestic Cats Are Decedents Of Ancient Mummies
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In the time of Ancient Egypt cats were viewed as important figures in daily life and worshipped as part of their religion. Bastet: cat goddess of beauty, is depicted as the human female with the head of a cat. Animal mummification was common practice, and was performed for many different purposes. Cats were treated as pets, worshipped gods, given as food offerings, and used in votive offerings.

The goddess Bastet was usually offered cat mummies as votive offerings by worshipping pilgrims at her temples. The cat mummies were buried into catacombs to bring the worshippers health and virility. The earliest Egyptian art and skeletal remains of cats were found around 4000 BC and it has been speculated that domesticated cats might have originated in Egypt.

In the last hundred years many mummified cats have been uncovered and displayed in museums around the world. Because of the mummification process it has been difficult to determine whether the mummified cats of ancient Egypt are ancestors of modern domestic cats or perhaps one of the wild cat species now found widely throughout Egypt and Europe. The juvenile forms of both wildcats and domestic cats are indistinguishable once mummified.

To help provide an answer to this question researchers have attempted to extract mitochondrial DNA from the mummified remains of ancient cats. Because the bones have been sitting in buried chambers for over twenty-five hundred years the extraction of undamaged DNA has proved to be particularly difficult. Recent work compared mitochondrial DNA of three different mummified cats with modern DNA of three species of wildcats occurring in modern egypt and a database of samples from Egyptian breeds of the domesticated cat, felis catus.

Previously the first evidence of domesticated cats was 9000 years ago in a neighboring country to Egypt, but whether the Egyptians sacrificed the parents of the modern house cat has remained elusive. In order to ensure that no contaminating DNA was introduced into the experiment the researchers used a room dedicated to the extraction of ancient DNA.

In this clean protected room, they soaked the mummy cat bones in bleach for many hours then shaved the outside layer of bone away with a razor blade. Once the inner bone was exposed they removed a sample for genetic testing.

The tests showed that the Egyptian mummies were most likely the ancestors of our common house cat, this is evidence that our common house cat sat in a place of worship in egypt. The research took advantage of small differences in the control region of the mitochondrial genome for both the wildcats and domesticated species.

This region changes slowly over time and only two or three letters where different between species. With enough samples containing these two letter differences it is able to identify the kind of cat worshipped and sacrificed by Egyptians over 2500 years ago.


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Amazing story. Thanks for sharing it. Hi, you should load a pic to the article so readers can pin on Pinterest!

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  about 4 years ago
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