Cats first befriended humans over 5,300 years ago in China

New research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences might be enough to make even Grumpy Cat smile.

The study reveals that the longstanding friendship between household cats and human beings may have started more than five thousand years ago, when the ancestors of today’s domesticated cats first left their mark – or paw prints – on Quanhucun, an ancient Chinese village populated by farmers.

Cat call

According to study co-author Fiona Marshall, the domestication of cats can be traced to about 5,300 years ago. Ancient cats were drawn to the farming village because of a rodent problem that promptly turned into an all-you-can-eat buffet for them.

“Results of this study show that the village of Quanhucun was a source of food for the cats 5,300 years ago, and the relationship between humans and cats was commensal, or advantageous for the cats," explained Marshall, a professor of archaeology at Washington University in St. Louis.

The study, led by paleontologist Yaowu Hu and his colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, revealed that the prehistoric farming village was bedeviled and raided by zokors, 10-inch long rodents that consumed the grain harvested and stored by the farmers.

A chemical analysis of various animal bones in the area showed that zokors subsisted on the same millet-rich diet as the humans, dogs, and pigs residing there. Furthermore, an ancient rodent burrow was discovered in a storage pit, as well as a few ceramic, rodent-proof vessels for storing grain. This led the researchers to conclude that the Chinese farmers took extra measures to keep zokors out of their grain stores, indicating that they really did have a rat problem on their hands.

Additionally, carbon isotope tests conducted on two cats found in the vicinity showed that the felines had traces of the same millet-rich chemical signatures present in the zokor bones that were analyzed. This supports the theory that the felines were indeed preying on the rodent pests.

Living in purr-fect harmony

However, the findings also suggested that the relationship between cats and Quanhucun farmers may have developed into more than just a simple exchange of food and pest control services.

Biometric analysis revealed that both cats were closer in size to domesticated cats than wildcats, revealing that the two may have become semi-permanent residents of the town. One of the cats appeared to have a diet made up of more grains and less meat, suggesting that it probably scavenged food from farmers instead of hunting other animals. Meanwhile, the other showed signs that it may have grown old in the town.

"Even if these cats were not yet domesticated, our evidence confirms that they lived in close proximity to farmers, and that the relationship had mutual benefits," said Marshall.

Then and meow

As cats tend to be a rarity in archeological sites, there are huge questions revolving around the history of feline domestication that still need to be answered.

Initially, the domestication of cats was thought to have stemmed from Ancient Egypt some 4,000 years ago, where cats (known as “mau”) were worshipped as gods and regarded as important symbols in society. However, the oldest evidence to date suggesting close ties between cats and humans is an almost 10,000-year old grave containing a wildcat buried with a human.

Recent studies on cat DNA present the notion that almost all of the world’s domesticated cats – estimated to be around 600 million – are descendants of Near Eastern wildcats. Marshall clarified, though, that there is currently no DNA evidence to conclude that the Quanhucun cats came from the Near East as well.

“We do not yet know whether these cats came to China from the Near East, whether they interbred with Chinese wild-cat species, or even whether cats from China played a previously unsuspected role in domestication," said Marshall.

Researchers in France and China are presently working on determining the Quanhucun cats’ true place of origin. — TJD, GMA News


Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • MVP on endorsement: Thanks, I’m no politician
    MVP on endorsement: Thanks, I’m no politician

    Businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan is grateful for Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s praise and presidential endorsement, but says he is not a politician. In an interview on the sidelines of the launch of the search for The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of the Philippines 2015 Wednesday night, Pangilinan dismissed the idea of running for president in the 2016 elections. “I’m not a politician, I’m just an ordinary business person,” he added. Santiago endorsed Pangilinan as a presidential candidate …

  • No Lenten break in operations vs lawless groups – AFP
    No Lenten break in operations vs lawless groups – AFP

    The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is not suspending its offensive against the Abu Sayyaf, New People’s Army (NPA) and other lawless groups during the Holy Week, an official said yesterday. Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, AFP public affairs office chief, said the AFP leadership is leaving it up to area and division commanders whether to raise the alert status in preparation for the Holy Week. Those deployed in areas where there are ongoing law enforcement operations against terrorist groups …

  • Probe harassment vs human rights lawyer, CA orders AFP
    Probe harassment vs human rights lawyer, CA orders AFP

    The Court of Appeals (CA) has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to investigate a human rights lawyer’s claim of harassment, including surveillance, by several military officers. In a 22-page decision, the former Special Sixth Division of the appellate court granted the petition for writ of amparo and habeas data of Maria Catherine Dannug-Salucon. The CA ordered the AFP to identify the officers behind the surveillance and file charges against them. The CA ruling said …

  • Envoy to expats: Retire, invest in Phl
    Envoy to expats: Retire, invest in Phl

    Retire and invest in real estate in the Philippines, especially now that the country has made it to the top 10 retirement destinations in the world. This is the message being spread by the Philippine embassy in Washington, with Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr. leading the refrain in meetings with various Filipino-American communities in the US. Cuisia recently met with Filipino communities in San Diego, California and El Paso, Texas. In his talks, Cuisia said that an affordable cost of living as …

  • PNPA spotlight falls on Ampatuan grandson
    PNPA spotlight falls on Ampatuan grandson

    The stigma of being a namesake of the principal suspect in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre did not prevent Cadet First Class Andal Ampatuan III from entering and graduating from the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA). Ampatuan III, now with a rank of police inspector, is a grandson of former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. The younger Ampatuan was among the 246 graduates of the PNPA “Lakandula” Class of 2015. Ampatuan III’s mother is Bai Rebecca Ampatuan, a daughter of the …

  • Philippines says China rushing construction in disputed sea
    Philippines says China rushing construction in disputed sea

    MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines' top diplomat said Thursday that China has been rushing construction projects, including massive land reclamation, in the disputed South China Sea in hopes of forestalling any legal moves against its vast territorial claims. …

  • Aquino takes responsibility for bungled mission in Philippines, but no apology
    Aquino takes responsibility for bungled mission in Philippines, but no apology

    Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Thursday took responsibility for a bungled security operation in January that left 44 police commandos dead, but offered no public apology for the clash that has become his biggest political crisis in years. Since the secret mission, Aquino's approval and trust ratings have plunged to their lowest level in five years, and a peace process with the country's largest Muslim rebel group has stalled. "To every Filipino who has felt failure or has been hurt …

  • Marshall rolls out new headphone, speaker lines in PHL

    Established music brand Marshall is rolling out new headphone and speaker lines in the Philippine market. …


Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Poll Choice Options