Cats First Domesticated More Than 5,000 Years Ago, New Evidence Suggeststhe daily dish
New evidence unearthed from a Chinese village dating back to the Stone Age has provided insight into cat domestication. Researchers said the evidence is the oldest known example of cats benefiting from a relationship with humans, and therefore the earliest indication of domestication.
Near Eastern Wildcat. Credit: Thinkstock
Unlike dogs, which became companions to humans way back in our hunter-gatherer days, cats appear to have first become domesticated after the development of agriculture.
The new discoveries come from the farming village of Quanhucan in central China, where bones from more than 5,000 years ago demonstrate a close interaction between cats and the people of Quanhucan.
"Clearly they were the animals of farmers," said Fiona Marshall of Washington University in St. Louis, an author of the new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Analysis of the bones suggests the cats ate grain from the village, not typical of a feline diet. It's not clear if the cats ate grain while scavenging, hunting vermin or being fed by people.
One specimen's teeth showed that the cat lived to a old age, suggesting that perhaps the animal had been cared for by a human friend.
On the other hand, the feline bones were found in village garbage pits, a disposal that suggests the people of Quanhucan weren't all that close to the cats, and may have regarded them as little more than pests themselves. It's more likely that the humans of the village were simply tolerating the presence of the cats, but this was an early step toward domestication.
Regardless of how our understanding of cats domestication unfolds, geneticist Carlos Driscoll of the Wildlife Institute of India says this new discovery represents a "very interesting and evocative first chapter."