ScienceNOW has a nifty article on the domestication of the cat. What is new is the use of mitochondrial DNA to prove that Felix silvestris silvestris (the Old World wildcat) is indeed the wild ancestor to today's house cat (Felix silvestris domesticus, Felix silvestris catus.)
(that's Felix silvestris silvestris to the left. Image source).
Wildcats are a single Old World species. Five subspecies live in Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, China, Central Asia, and the Near East. The researchers collected genetic material from 979 modern-day cats, domestic and wild, from three continents. Their analysis indicates that the common ancestors of all domesticated cats lived in the Near East some 130,000 years ago. They were wildcats living in the Fertile Crescent--the area extending from the Eastern Mediterranean around Turkey and down into Mesopotamia--"exactly the place where humanity settled down to agriculture ten to twelve thousand years ago," says O'Brien. The team found five lineages of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in modern felines. Because of this variation, the researchers believe domestication occurred a half-dozen times or so in the Middle East.