Short Takes

May 2019 Issue

Cats Are Larger

Study of ancient remains

Modern domestic cats are at least 16 percent bigger than their Viking-Age ancestors (793–1066 AD), according to a Danish study shared by The Winn Foundation. Researchers excavated the remains of adult domestic cats at archaeological sites in Denmark as well as modern skeletal remains.

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Bitz-Thorsen J, Gotfredsen AB. Domestic cats (Felis catus) in Denmark have increased significantly in size since the Viking Age. Danish J Archaeology 2018; 7:241-254

Femur length showed the largest change (16 percent), while tooth size increased the least (5.5 percent). More modest increases were identified when comparing the femurs and teeth of post-Medieval (5th to 15th centuries) cats with those of modern female cats; over this time span, femur length increased 4 percent, while dental size increased 1.5 percent.

Interestingly, the ancient remains were unable to be divided by sex, but the comparisons were all made to female modern-age remains. This is believed to mean increases represent the minimum differences between the archaeological groups and modern cats.

Food availability is believed to be a factor, as cats transitioned from rodent hunters to house pets. Genetic changes may have played a role, too, but additional studies are needed.