Thomas Cucchi

Ancient mouse offers clues to royal shipwreck

From New Scientist

Remains of a long dead house mouse have been found in the wreck of a Bronze Age royal ship.

That makes it the earliest rodent stowaway ever recorded, and proof of how house mice spread around the world.

Archaeologist Thomas Cucchi of the University of Durham, UK, identified a fragment of a mouse jaw in sediment from a ship that sank 3500 years ago off the coast of Turkey.

The cargo of ebony, ivory, silver and gold - including a gold scarab with the name of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti - indicates it was a royal vessel. Because the cargo carried artefacts from many cultures, its nationality and route is hotly debated, but the mouse's jaw may provide answers.

Cucchi's analysis confirms it belonged to Mus musculus domesticus, the only species known to live in close quarters with humans (Journal of Archaeological Science, vol 35, p 2953).

The shape of the molars suggests the mouse came from the northern Levantine coast, as they are similar to those of modern house mice in Syria, near Cyprus.

And, when generations of rodents live aboard ships, they evolve larger body shapes.

Yet this mouse was roughly the same shape and size as other small, land-dwelling mice of the time, suggesting it boarded just before the ship set sail.