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mitochondrial genetic diversity. In sum, the genetic evidence appears to be most consistent with a single protracted domestication episode, one incorporating multiple wildcat matrilines over the broad Near Eastern human cultural area. We feel this development can best be understood in the context of agricultural development patterns. The following scenario for cat domestication seems likely.


The available archaeological evidence indicates that the process of wildcat domestication began in the Neolithic in the same place and time as the development of year-round settlements and the onset of an agricultural economy (Clutton-Brock, 1993; Vigne et al., 2004; Driscoll et al., 2007). As far as the local fauna was concerned, these permanent human settlements developed ex nihilo. Opportunistic animals apparently ventured into this new urban environment, rich in food year-round and free of most predators, and found fertile new ecological niches to exploit (Zeuner, 1963; Coppinger and Smith, 1983). The ability to live around people therefore conferred important advantages to those animals that adapted to it (Morey, 1994). Commensal species such as mice, rats, and sparrows that adapted to human village environs (and their trash) probably emerged first. Although the earliest grain cache (of wild, not domestic, grains) in the Near East is dated to 21,000 B.P. (Tanno and Willcox, 2006), the origin of agriculture per se in the region is dated to between 12,500 and 11,250 B.P. (Hillman et al., 2001), and it is from approximately this period that house mice locally appeared (Auffray et al., 1988). Resident populations of peridomestic rodents sustained by trash dumps and stockpiles of grain provided a reliable food source for native wildcats, which then became adapted to an “urban” environment as peridomestic human commensals themselves (Serpell, 1990; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002).

Cereal domestication in the Fertile Crescent is characterized by multiple independent domestication of multiple grain species in multiple centers from the southern Levant through Syria to southern Anatolia (Willcox, 2005). If cat domestication is largely a sequela of the development of towns (enhanced by the domestication of grains), divergent mitochondrial lineages (A–E in Fig. 5.2B) may not be unexpected, because recruitment of naturally occurring wildcat mitochondrial lineages would reflect the wide distribution of human settlements. Bearing in mind that an mtDNA gene tree represents only a tiny subset of the species’ genetic history (MacHugh and Bradley, 2001; Avise, 2004), and considering domestication as a polygenic trait affecting behavior (Trut, 1999), the polygenic allelic series behind domesticity and mtDNA need not have congruent

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