woman running away from mouse eating cheese woman running away from mouse eating cheese How long have mice been stealing humans' food? A new study answers this long-held question. (Photo: Ron Leishman / Shutterstock)

Of mice and men: Rodents and humans have been annoying each other for 15,000 years

It wasn't the advent of farming that led to mice stealing your food, a new study says. It actually happened much earlier.

There's a mouse in your house, and it might have been there a lot longer than you think.

A new study says that contrary to long-held beliefs about the relationship between mice and men, those pesky rodents have actually been invading your space for about 15,000 years – long before agriculture became the backbone of human productivity.

According to researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Haifa in Israel and the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, the common house mouse actually became a ubiquitous part of modern human life as soon as humans began living in one place long enough to impact local animal communities.


Lior Weissbrod is a research fellow at the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa and lead author of the study. He began his research by analyzing hundreds of mouse fossils from historic sites in Israel and the Caucasus region. They dated back to the time of the Natufian people, who lived in the eastern Mediterranean and built sturdy stone houses. From there, Weissbrod and colleagues identified two mouse species – the house mouse and its wild relative, the Macedonian mouse. Apparently, the two species typically fought over territory – and judging by that squeaky little pest in your basement, the house mouse won.

In his research, Weissbrod concluded that mice were fixtures in the households of hunter-gatherers long before the advent of sedentary agriculture, when people took up roots in one place – at least 3,000 years before.

The team at Weizmann Institute studied the circadian rhythm of mice like this one to understand how to better combat jet lag.Mice have been a hallmark of laboratory science for decades. But their relationship with humans goes back a whole lot farther. (Photo: Mirko Sobotta/Shutterstock)

"These findings suggest that hunter-gatherers of the Natufian culture, rather than later Neolithic farmers, were the first to adopt a sedentary way of life and unintentionally initiated a new type of ecological interaction – close coexistence with commensal species such as the house mouse," Weissbrod said. "The human dynamic of shifts between mobile and sedentary existence was unraveled in unprecedented detail in the record of fluctuations in proportions of the two species through time."

Weissbrod's findings were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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Related Topics: Animals, Science

Of mice and men: Rodents and humans have been annoying each other for 15,000 years
Mice started their relationship with humans 'as soon as our species started to stay put and build houses 15,000 years ago,' a new study says.