September 30, 2020

The entry of mice to human life

When you look at modern life there are some things that are easy to trace back to their origin. We know that the internet made it into people’s homes in the 90s, we know that the TV was invented in 1927, we know that the telephone was invented in 1876. By peeling back these layers of innovation we can start to picture what life was like for people at different points in time. If we go back far enough we are no longer talking about forms of technology but different parts of their lifestyle. A recent discovery shows when mice first became a part of people’s lives and it paints a vivid picture of life at that time.

Studies have now shown that the first mouse interacted with people in their homes at least 14,500 years ago. This was understood based on the remains found of a human settlement in modern-day Israel. The more sedentary these settlements became the more that remains of mice started to appear. It was believed for a long time that the mice didn’t migrate into Europea until agriculture had become an important part of their lives and settlements had grown large. New evidence suggests they were present some 3,000 years before that and have been in Europe for at least 6,500 years.

Historians believe that the mice would have been attracted to humans due to the small stores of wild grains they would have kept and the additional shelter that human settlements likely provided. This also leads historians to believe that cats likely became domesticated soon after mice showed up. The reason cats are a prevalent pet today is that they were (and still are) incredibly good at combating mice populations.

This does not mean that once mice showed up people started to capture cats, quite the opposite. It is likely that once mice showed up around human settlements wild cats started to appear to hunt them. From there the cats likely domesticated themselves and people willingly allowed it because they were so useful. Overtime the wild cats became more and more used to humans and vice versa. 

In Cyprus, there are remains of a woman dating back to 9,500 years. She appears to have been buried alongside her cat which is clear proof of early cat domestication. Historians believe that mice would have stowed away on ships from 11,000 years ago and that this began the process of cat domestication. It is likely that the cat history goes back far further (we are all aware of the link between ancient Egypt and cats after all) but that the domestication of cats may have taken some time. Cats likely lived in the vicinity of humans for a long time before they became domesticated.

Of course, the dog was still the first domesticated animal. Evidence suggests that they may have been first domesticated up to 30,000 years ago. The first domesticated dogs were likely wolves attracted to human rubbish. Soon after the initial period of self-domestication, humans started to breed them for hunting, herding, guarding, and carrying. Today we breed them for stranger reasons. 

A recent study shows that horses were likely first domesticated 3,500 years ago while sheep and goats were likely 11,000 years ago in line with the advent of agriculture. 

The exact time that cats were domesticated is unknown but it is clear that it was around 10,000 years ago based on that Cyprian woman who clearly loved her cat very dearly. Whether she loved that cat because it snuggled up against her feet at night and played the keyboard in a weird way, or whether it was because it kept mice at bay, is unknown.