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You are here: Home / Library / RBINS Staff Publications 2023 / Paleogenomic insights into cat domestication in ancient Egypt

Valentina Rovelli, Bea De Cupere, Wim Van Neer, Frank Zachos, Marica Baldoni, and Marco de Martino (2023)

Paleogenomic insights into cat domestication in ancient Egypt

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

Situated at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe, Egypt is considered one of the two potential cradles of cat domestication. Zooarchaeological evidence points to cat-human relationships as old as the 4th millennium BC. Later, cats were object of a cult dedicated to the goddess Bastet, and from the 1st millennium BC until the 4th century AD were mummified as votive offerings. Previous ancient DNA (aDNA) investigation showed that cats in ancient Egypt possessed two maternal lineages commonly found in modern domestic cats. Haplotype-C, which spread all over the Old World since Classical Antiquity from Northern Africa, and haplotype-A, which was associated with an earlier cat dispersal from the Levant during the Neolithic. DNA from cat mummies represents a key tool to unravel the role of Egypt as a possible independent centre of domestication, even though the retrieval of aDNA from mummified tissues has greatly been challenged by DNA preservation. Here, we show the preliminary results of aDNA analyses conducted on more than 50 Egyptian cat mummies from Beni Hassan and Gourna (Luxor), dated to the Greco-Roman period. By comparing different methods (e.g. single and double stranded genomic library construction), we provide an extensive case for screening DNA preservation in arid regions, and within different tissues, such as hair, claws, and petrous bones. We also explore the potential to gain novel insights on the dispersal of domestic cats from Egypt in Classical Antiquity through mitochondrial and genome-wide data.
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