Cats from Shinar, not Egypt

by David Catchpoole

Photo sxc.huCat

Where did the domestic cat come from? One popular view is that it originated in Egypt.1

However, researchers recently carried out a genetic assessment of 979 domestic cats and their wild progenitors, and have concluded that the original domestic cat ancestors of Cleopatra’s cat were not in fact residents of Egypt.2


Instead, on the basis of their analysis of feline DNA, the researchers say that all domestic cats are descended from a small family of cats ‘living on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates’.3 The names of those rivers would be familiar to anyone today who has been keeping up with news about strife-torn Iraq during the past decade.4 


So, based on their phylogenetic analysis, the researchers say that the ancestors of all domestic cats hail from an area that today lies within Iraq.


Well, that’s very interesting, because the Bible has many references to that area, too. In Genesis chapter 11, the Bible refers to the plain of Shinar (v. 2), which is generally accepted to mean the land area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. And in that account (Genesis 11:1–9), the Bible tells us that it was on that plain that the people were constructing a tower ‘whose top is in the heavens’, and it was from that plain that the people were scattered when God confused their language. (Hence the name: ‘Babel’.)

Photo Amanda GreensladeCat

In the light of that dispersion from Babel, the researchers’ suggestion that the descendants of the ‘founder’ domestic cats ‘were transported across the world by human assistance’ makes a lot of sense. That is, as people spread out from Shinar in family groups, separating from other families with different languages (Genesis 10:5,20,31), they took their cats with them!

And not just their cats. I remember being taught, as an agricultural science student at university, that the origin of many of our crop plants can be traced back to the ‘Fertile Crescent’—none other than the plain of Shinar, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Little wonder, then, that the area is also known as ‘the cradle of civilization’. And not just civilization, but, it now seems, domestic cats, too. (But I doubt if anyone will refer to it as the ‘cat’s cradle’!)

Published: 16 October 2007


  1. CatsInfo.com, History of the domestic cat, www.catsinfo.com/history.html, acc. 27 September 2007. Return to Text.
  2. Driscoll, C.A., and 12 others, The Near Eastern Origin of Cat Domestication, Science 317(5837):519–523, 27 July 2007. Return to Text.
  3. English, R., Every cat traced to mother of all felines, The Advertiser, (Adelaide, Aust.), 30 June 2007, p. 76. Return to Text.
  4. Roy, A., Mespotamia. Babylon. Tigris and Euphrates. Special Report on Iraq, The Guardian, www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,927849,00.html, pub. 2 April 2003, acc. 27 September 2007. Return to Text.

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