ArchaeoCafé Podcast – Episode 2-34 – Palaeofelinology: An interview with Claudio Ottoni

hosted by Otis Crandell

In this episode I talk with Claudio Ottoni about the origin and history of domestic cats.

Listen to this episode online:



Some useful terminology and links

FELIX project
This project analyses cats from 10,000 years ago until the 18th and 19th centuries from archaeological sites in Europe, the Near and Middle East, and North Africa to gain insights into the cat-human relationship. By reconstructing the genomes and the dietary habits of ancient cats, the objective of the project is to reconstruct the unique biological and ecological features that shaped cat domestication, and the dispersal of domestic cats across the globe.

Domestic cat (Felis catus)
A domestic species of small carnivorous mammal. It is the only domesticated species in the family Felidae.

African wildcat (Felis lybica)
A small wildcat species native to Africa, West and Central Asia up to Rajasthan in India and Xinjiang in China. In Cyprus, an African wildcat was found in a burial site next to a human skeleton in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B settlement Shillourokambos.

European wildcat (Felis silvestris)
A small wildcat species native to continental Europe, Scotland, Turkey and the Caucasus.

Hierakonpolis or Nekhen
The religious and political capital of Upper Egypt at the end of prehistoric Egypt (c. 3200–3100 BCE) and probably also during the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3100–2686 BCE).

An archaeological site in Cyprus dating to the 9th millennium BCE. It is the oldest known farming village in the world.

A Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) site near Parekklisia, in southern Cyprus. The settlement has four phases and was occupied from the end of the 9th millennium BCE to the second half of the 8th millennium BCE.

[a.k.a. Berenice Troglodytica, Baranis]
An ancient seaport of Egypt on the western shore of the Red Sea. It was founded in 275 BCE by Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285–246 BCE), who named it after his mother, Berenice I of Egypt.

An individual’s set of observable characteristics or traits (for example, height, eye color, and blood type). The genetic contribution to the phenotype is called the genotype, or genetic code. Some traits are largely determined by the genotype, while other traits are largely determined by environmental factors.


Selected reading

The Dispersal of the Domestic Cat: Paleogenetic and Zooarcheological Evidence
by Claudio Ottoni and Wim Van Neer
Near Eastern Archaeology, 2020, vol. 83(1), p. 38-45.

The palaeogenetics of cat dispersal in the ancient world
by Claudio Ottoni and others
Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2017, vol. 1, article number 0139

Of cats and men: The paleogenetic history of the dispersal of cats in the ancient world
by Claudio Ottoni and others
bioRxiv, 2016, article number 080028

More evidence for cat taming at the Predynastic elite cemetery of Hierakonpolis (Upper Egypt)
by Wim Van Neer and others
Journal of Archaeological Science, 2014, vol. 45, p. 103-111.

Early Taming of the Cat in Cyprus
by Jean-Denis Vigne and others
Science, 2004, vol. 304(5668), p. 259.

The Near Eastern Origin of Cat Domestication
by Carlos A. Driscoll and others
Science, 2007, vol. 317(5837), p. 519-523.


About Claudio Ottoni

Dr. Ottoni is a professor at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”. His research interests are in biomolecular archaeology and the study of ancient DNA as a tool to reconstruct the past of human and animal populations. In particular, much of his research has focused on the history of cat-human interactions and particularly through the use of palaeogenetics. He has previously lead research projects at the Center for Archaeological Sciences (CAS) of the KU Leuven University, in Belgium, the Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES) of the University of Oslo, in Norway, and the Diet and Ancient Technology Laboratory (DANTE) of the Sapienza University of Rome, in Italy. Dr. Ottoni is currently the head of the FELIX project, funded by the European Research Council.





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