Scientists in Maryland have put together a family tree for cats. Using DNA evidence, they found that the first cats evolved in South East Asia around 11 million years ago. The Panthera genus, which includes lions, tigers and jaguars, evolved first. Various other groups evolved rapidly, with the final group, the ancestor of the domestic house cat, emerging in Africa and Europe about 6.5 million years ago.
this blogger, the interesting thing about this study is that it was done entirely by genetics — by comparing DNA samples. Species with similar DNA are considered to be close relatives. The more traditional way of figuring out evolutionary relationships — by studying fossils — was less helpful in this particular case. Cat fossils look very much alike, and it can be extremely difficult to figure out exactly which species is related to which. Especially in a family like the cats, where the different animals moved around a lot. (According to the study, the ancestors of the cheetah started in South East Asia, moved to North America, and then back to Asia / Africa!)
Just goes to show that evidence for evolution comes from many different sources.
* (Yes, it's another obscure reference to pop songs from Gene's formative years...)