A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. She receives creative input from the Real Cats and clerical assistance from She of Little Talent (old SoLT, a.k.a. Roby Sweet). Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to old SoLt (Ms. Sweet). Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Did Vikings Have Cats? Of Course!

kitten wearing a toy viking helmet
If you follow cats on social media,
you probably saw lots of cats in
Viking helmets late last week. It's
all because of a new DNA study.
Stock image by Chris Brignell, via Adobe Stock.

In case you are not tuned in to the cat news of the week, I will begin this post by telling you about the recent kerfuffle (or should that be kerFLUFFle in this case?) in the ancient-cat world. If you are plugged in to social media and follow cats at all, recently you may have seen your feed flooded with pictures of cats in Viking helmets. That sudden influx of Viking kitties was due to a cat DNA study that got a lot of attention last week. This study, presented at a symposium on biomolecular archaeology, examined DNA from over 200 felines dating from the Mesolithic period (that’s the middle of the Stone Age, before agriculture) up to the 1700s AD. The researchers found that wild cats of a certain lineage were dispersed from the Middle East to early farming communities in the eastern Mediterranean and, much later, cats from Egypt moved into Eurasia and Africa with a lot of help from farmers and seafarers, including Vikings.

I’d like to tell you a lot more about this particular study, but so far I have not been able to lay my paws on anything more than a very brief Nature news bit describing it. We’ll keep you updated as we learn more. (We did learn more. Read the update here.)

Anyway, one fascinating item in the news bit is the mention of cat remains at a Viking site in northern Germany dated to between the 8th century and 11th century. One geneticist is quoted as saying, “I didn’t even know there were Viking cats.” Obviously this person is not an avid reader of The Cuddlywumps Cat Chronicles. Otherwise, he might recall that we have written about Viking cats before (see The Goddess Freya’s Cats).

Who were these Vikings, and why did they have cats?

The Vikings were Scandinavian raiders, colonists, and traders who had their heyday beginning in the 8th century and ending in the 11th century. According to The Viking Answer Lady, the Vikings had cats both to keep rodents in check and as pets. New brides might receive kittens as gifts. We think the kittens would have been both a practical gift to keep mice out of the house and a symbolic gift recalling Freya, the goddess of domesticity and female sexuality.

What kind of cats did the Vikings have?

Calico Norwegian Forest Cat on black background
This is a Skogkatt, or Norwegian Forest Cat. But was the
cat found at that Viking Age site a Skogkatt? Cuddlywumps Cat
Chronicles readers want to know!
Stock image by Summer, via Adobe Stock.
We’d like to just say, “Norwegian Forest Cats,” because that would be so easy, and it makes sense. Called Skogkatt in Norwegian, these are large, strong cats with well-insulated coats (for more, see What Kind of Cat Would Santa Claus Have?). But we don’t have any information that says that the cat whose remains were discovered at that Viking site in Germany was indeed a Skogkatt

Two questions we would love to know the answers to are

1. Was that cat a Skogkatt? and
2. When did cats first arrive in Scandinavia?

Once again, curiosity leaves us with more questions than answers!

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