How pre-domesticated cats lived

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The ancestors of modern cats followed early farmers into Europe but weren't pets, according to a recent study. Nitrogen isotope ratios in the bones of six cats from Neolithic Poland suggest that these ancient cats hunted rodents that ate human farmers' crops, but they didn't eat quite the same diet as local people and their trusty domestic dogs. In other words, the cats lived a lifestyle similar to modern coyotes.

All modern cats trace their lineage back to Near Eastern wildcats; in fact, it's still a bit tricky to tell the domestic cats from these wildcats based on their DNA. Sometime around 5,300 years ago, it seems that these wild cats noticed that rodents like mice, voles, and hazel grouse flocked to human settlements to eat crops and food stores. The rodents came for the grain, and the cats came for the easy, abundant prey.

Between 4,200 and 2,300 years ago, a population of early farmers from Central Asia moved into Europe, where they interacted with the hunter-gatherers who already lived there. Some wild cats tagged along; archaeologists found Near Eastern wildcat skeletons in Poland from around the same period. Archaeologist Magdalena Krajcarz of Nicolaus Copernicus University and her colleagues say the cats weren't really traveling with the humans—they were just following their prey. (This argument does sound a bit like a cat wrote it.)
 

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I am partway through Lions in the Living Room, and so far it has some fascinating information on house cats. One point that they make is that cats have only recently begun to show the biological indicators of domestic animals. A thousand years ago, cats did not have the variety of colors that modern cats have, most were similar to mideastern desert cats. Much more recently we have seen some breeds with shortened faces and floppy ears, which cattle, goats, dogs, sheep, and other domesticated animals developed thousands of years ago. Cats are still semi domesticated, but house cats are the only cat species that is not currently endangered.
 

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That's one of the strangest twists to domestication, the way dogs, cats and foxes develop a wide range of coat colors when they're tamed.
Wild non-scientific guess - but certain colors and shapes must be beneficial for survival in the wild - so others get bred out? In domestication - we pick the mutations we think are "cute" as humans and give those animals more love/shelter/food - so things start trending that way.
 
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Beebo Brink

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Wild non-scientific guess - but certain colors and shapes must be beneficial for survival in the wild - so others get bred out? In domestication - we pick the mutations we think are "cute" as humans and give those animals more love/shelter/food - so things start trending that way.
No, there's something else at work. For instance, read the fascinating story of the Russian silver foxes that were tamed to make them easier to handle for the fur industry. As the foxes of each generation were selected for friendly behavior, their coats began to change. This wasn't the desired result, since the changes made the fur unusable for the industry.

Domesticated animals of widely different species seem to share some common traits: changes in body size, in fur coloration, in the timing of the reproductive cycle. Their hair or fur becomes wavy or curly; they have floppy ears and shortened or curly tails.
Man's new best friend? A forgotten Russian experiment in fox domestication
 
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There are specific genes that appear to alter behavior around predators, like humans, that are linked to physical traits. Child-like features that persist into adulthood is a part of it. For some reason, spotted coats are also typical.