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The history of the world according to cats - Eva-Maria Geigl

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In ancient times, wildcats were fierce carnivorous hunters. And unlike dogs, who have undergone centuries of selective breeding, modern cats are genetically very similar to ancient cats. How did these solitary, fierce predators become our sofa sidekicks? Eva-Maria Geigl traces the domestication of the modern house cat.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Eva-Maria Geigl
  • Director Chintis Lundgren
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Animator Chintis Lundgren
  • Character Designer Chintis Lundgren
  • Sound Designer Draško Ivezić
  • Composer Draško Ivezić
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Fact-checker Francisco Diez
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Cats, like dogs, are pets that invaded the world wide web and thrill people with their antics. Although both species inspire humans, they are very different. What are these differences?

And what is the cat good for? Most cats in big cities are just couch potatoes, their raison d’être is to delight their owners. And when they can escape, they kill rodents, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Since there are about 600 million domestic cats in the world, their hunting activities put many of these species at risk of extinction. But what were cats good for in the past – and still are in the country side?

a.They played and were filmed to be watched on the internet b.They hunted rodents and venomous animals c. They were hunted to be eaten Obviously, you found the right answer, which is b: cats were always important because they killed rodents that ate and polluted huge amounts of cereals in granaries and destroyed ropes and all kind of organic material used in ships and weapons. They also killed very dangerous animals such as snakes and scorpions that were (and still are) abundant in Africa and Asia. Thus, they were extremely useful in ancient societies. Moreover, they kept the environment clean and improved the hygienic status of the populations since rodents transmitted diseases such as the plague.

This is the reason why cats and the first farmers, during the Neolithic period, which started in the so-called Fertile Crescent around 12,000 years ago, began a commensal relationship that was beneficial for both parties. Since the wild cat in Northern Africa and Southwest Asia is not a big, ferocious and dangerous animal but rather easy to tame, it was not necessary to particularly change its morphology and behavior. This is also seen in the genomes of present-day domestic cats that are almost like the genomes of wild cats behavior. The behavioral changes may concern only their sociability as wildcats are solitary animals whereas domestic cats (more or less) tolerate other cats and humans. Doesn’t this tell us that from the very beginning, the cat was simply the perfect animal for these farmers…..and later for sailors and soldiers?

The analysis of DNA preserved in cat bones from archeological sites all around the Mediterranean Sea showed that the cat from the Northern Fertile Crescent and Anatolia accompanied early farmers on their migrations during the New Stone Age into other geographic regions. We know this because its genetic signature, a particular mitochondrial DNA lineage, was found in archeological sites in Europe, Iran, and Egypt. During the Classical Antiquities, it was another mitochondrial DNA lineage, before only present in Egyptian cats, that was found in cat bones preserved in archeological sites in Southwest Asia, Africa, Europe, and even in a Viking port at the Baltic Sea. These results were interpreted as witness of the voyages, by land, but probably mostly by Sea, of traders and soldiers who had cats on their ships to preserve their food, ropes and other material essential for navigation. It was in this way that the cat conquered the world.

You can check out the original study here.

Additionally, here is a video explaining the cat’s story.



TED-Ed
Lesson Creator
New York, NY
01/01/2019 • 
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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Eva-Maria Geigl
  • Director Chintis Lundgren
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Animator Chintis Lundgren
  • Character Designer Chintis Lundgren
  • Sound Designer Draško Ivezić
  • Composer Draško Ivezić
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Fact-checker Francisco Diez
  • See more