According to a new study, mice attached themselves to human abodes long before the hunter-gatherers started developing their agricultural skills. However, the pesky rodents had to fight for their territory with another species, the Mus musculus domesticus we see today winning the battle against the Mus macedonicus.
Mice Made their Appearance Once Humans Started Building Homes
Until recently, scientists believed that mice started circling human settlements once they had access to grain deposits. However, recent evidence shows that the little rodents started attaching themselves to human dwellings ever since our ancestors started building them.
According to evidence collected by a team of scientists from the University of Haifa and Washington University, mice were shadowing humans in the Levant region as far as 15,000 years ago. It was only 3,000 years later that crop agriculture was developed.
At the time, the Natufian people, the local residents of the Levant region, were transitioning from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a semi-sedentary one, building permanent dwellings perfect for harboring stray mice.
Researchers Used Geometric Morphometrics to Search for Mouse Fossils
In order to study the relationship between mice and early humans, the team used a new technique that relies on digital analysis and high-resolution imaging. Thanks to geometric morphometrics, the researchers were able to distinguish the small remains of mice or other rodents in five Israeli sites.
Once the fossilized remains were found, the scientists used carbon dating to determine their age. Some remains were as old as 200,000 years while others belonged to mice that roamed the fields of Israel 10,200 years ago.
To prove the theory that mice were attracted to human settlements long before our ancestors started planting and harvesting grains, the team also visited several Maasai communities in Tanzania and Kenya. The semi-nomadic lifestyle of the Maasai is a genuine window to the past, showing researchers how ancient humans lived.
During a short period, the Natufian people returned to a nomad lifestyle, house mice being replaced by wild, more aggressive specimens. Nevertheless, when the early humans settled down for good, house mice didn’t fail to make an appearance, remaining by their side until modern times.
Mice have been around for approximately 100,000 years, the last 15,000 being spent in the company of humans. They are not just pesky pests that chew holes in our furniture and eat our crops, but products of evolution.
Image Source: Wikipedia