Ah, the Vikings. Scandinavia was full of them. When I was in Denmark, I visited a town called Ribe. It’s where, in 700, the Vikings formed a marketplace and it is now home to a Viking museum. Inside are recreations of the Vikings, their tools, their ships, their lives… and their cats?
According to a recent study presented Sept. 15, 2016, in Oxford, United Kingdom, at the International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology, these ancient seafarers had cats on board their ships. The study “sequenced DNA from more than 200 cats that lived between about 15,000 years ago and the 18th century,” Nature reports. The researchers analyzed the ancient cats from archaeological sites in Africa, Europe and the Middle East, in an effort to learn more about cat domestication.
“We don’t know the history of ancient cats. We do not know their origin, we don’t know how their dispersal occurred,” says Eva-Maria Geigl, an evolutionary geneticist at the Institut Jacques Monod in Paris, told Nature.
Geigl, along with Claudio Ottoni and Thierry Grange, found that cats that descended from Egypt spread throughout Europe and Africa and that seafaring people, such as Vikings, likely kept cats to rid the ships of rodents. During the research, Geigl and her team found remains of cats that had that lineage at a Viking site in Germany, which dated between the 8th and 11th century A.D.
Geigl hopes to continue to sequence feline DNA to learn more about cats’ lineage and domestication. It should be noted, however, that the team has not yet published their findings in a peer-reviewed journal, according to Science Alert, and the results could change based on what the research reveals.