Biometric Variation in the Cat

Cats are one of the most widespread and familiar animals of the domestic realm and, as observed in a recent article (O’Connor, 2007), their association with people extends back at least into the Neolithic period. Opinions regarding the original domestication of cats range from the view that they were deliberately domesticated by people as useful predators of household vermin to the behavioural model proposed by Todd (1978), which has cats adopting people as a useful source of food, and being first tolerated and then encouraged by people.

Despite their popularity, the relationship between people and cats have been tackled comparatively infrequently in archaeological literature when compared, for example, to caprines or dogs. One factor in this relative neglect is that any systematic study would have to differentiate between the bones of wild and domestic cats, something which is problematic and which O’Connor (2007) sets out to address.

By examining both modern data and archaeological samples, it is evident that there is not a clear differentiation in biometric data between wild cats and house cats. Furthermore, the size distribution of house cat populations varied distinctly from time to time and place to place. This is consistent with modern observations that sympatric wildcats and house cats interbreed freely to produce a continuum of hybrid forms. Nonetheless, the study also demonstrates that wildcat specimens may be identified in samples that consist largely of house cats, albeit with differing degrees of confidence. O’Connor (2007) suggests that the next step is to attempt the converse, namely to identify scarce house cats amongst samples that largely consist of wild cats.

Reference: O’Connor, T. 2007. Wild or Domestic? Biometric Variation in the Cat Felis Silvestris Schreber. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 17: 581-595

See also: Early Cat Taming in Egypt

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