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You are here: Home / Library / RBINS Staff Publications 2023 / Paleogenomics of European wild and domestic cats

Marco de Martino, Valentina Rovelli, Bea De Cupere, Tullia di Corcia, Francesca Alhaique, Sonja Vuković, Cleia Detry, Idoia Grau, Lluís Lloveras, Jacopo de Grossi Mazzorin, Claudia Minniti, Marta Moreno, Jordi Nadal, Vedat Onar, Vera Pereira, Nicolai Spassov, Barbara Wilkens, Joris Peters, Wim Van Neer, and Claudio Ottoni (2023)

Paleogenomics of European wild and domestic cats

In: SMBE - Entangled histories: insights into the evolution of humans and their domesticates through paleogenomics, 23-27/07/2023, Ferrara (Italy).

Zooarchaeological and genetic evidence from the last two decades demonstrated that domestic cats originated from the North African and Near Eastern wildcat, Felis silvestris lybica. The commensal relationship between humans and cats most likely started 11 thousand years ago (kya) in the Neolithic Levant. More recently, ancient mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) evidence suggested that domestic cats spread to Southeast Europe as early as 4400 BC, however their dispersal to the rest of Europe is controversial due to the paucity of data. Furthermore, complex scenarios of admixture between domestic and wild populations (e.g., the European wildcat F. s. silvestris and the Asian wildcat F. s. ornata) may have taken place across time, thus leaving a mtDNA-based reconstruction unsatisfactory. Here we show the preliminary results of our paleogenomic investigation from more than 150 cat remains from European archaeological sites dated from 15 kya to the 18th century AD, with a peculiar focus on the Mediterranean area. By screening the samples for endogenous cat DNA content, we provide a framework of ancient DNA preservation in cat remains across time and space. Furthermore, by generating complete mtDNAs and low-coverage nuclear genome data (ranging from 0.2- to 1.4-fold), we were able to refine the chronology of cat dispersal in the Mediterranean region, and to address questions around potential admixture patterns between wild and domestic cat populations. Our paleogenomic dataset lay the foundations for future and more in-depth analyses aimed at understanding the factors determining the evolutionary success of the domestic cat.
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