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

Loading...

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.

  • 15 wounded in 2 explosions in restive southern Philippines

    MANILA, Philippines (AP) — At least 15 people have been wounded in two separate blasts that hit a police camp in a restive southern Philippine province where Muslim militants operate, police said Saturday. …

  • 15 wounded in mosque attack at Philippine police camp
    15 wounded in mosque attack at Philippine police camp

    Fifteen people including 10 police officers were wounded in an attack on a mosque at police camp on a remote Philippine island long plagued by Islamic militancy, officials said on Saturday. Successive blasts targeted the mosque inside Camp Kasim on the island of Jolo early evening Friday -- an initial grenade attack followed by a bomb explosion less than 10 minutes later that was intended to target police who rushed to the scene, local authorities said. "It seems the (first) explosion was set …

  • US missile cruiser docks at Subic
    US missile cruiser docks at Subic

    A US Navy missile cruiser has dropped anchor in Subic Bay as part of “routine port call,” amid rising tension in the West Philippine Sea stirred by China’s island building activities and other threatening moves by its forces. The arrival of the Ticonderoga-class missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG-67) at the Subic Bay Freeport in Olongapo City yesterday was “just a routine port visit for ship replenishment and routine maintenance of shipboard system,” said Philippine Navy Public Affairs Office …

  • Agri, power sectors should brace for El Niño
    Agri, power sectors should brace for El Niño

    The agriculture and power sectors, as well as the general public should brace for a prolonged El Niño phenomenon that could further reduce water supply for electricity and irrigation, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) warned yesterday. Flaviana Hilario, acting deputy administrator for research and development of PAGASA, said the El Niño condition is expected to intensify from weak to moderate by August this year. Anthony Lucero, …

  • China to US: Help cool down Phl on sea row
    China to US: Help cool down Phl on sea row

    The US should help “cool down” the Philippines and realize that its meddling in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute would only stir tensions, a Chinese newspaper reported. “Washington should know its meddling in the South China Sea has been destabilizing the region. The US has vowed not to take sides in the territorial dispute, which involves China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. …

  • No stopping K to 12 despite SC case, protests
    No stopping K to 12 despite SC case, protests

    K to 12 is the fruit of years of comprehensive consultations involving different sectors in education,” Aquino said during the launching of the program at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City. Organized by the Department of Education (DepEd), the launch was attended by teachers, students and representatives from different stakeholders supportive of the K to 12 program. It was held two years after the signing of Republic Act 10533, or the Enhanced Basic Education …

  • MNLF pushes review of peace pact with gov’t
    MNLF pushes review of peace pact with gov’t

    The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) maintained its bid for completion of the tripartite review of the implementation of the peace agreement with the Philippine government in 1996. The MNLF’s desire to put consensual closure to the tripartite effort was relayed by its leaders to Sayed El-Masry, the special envoy of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), during the annual foreign ministers conference in Kuwait last Thursday. The MNLF peace agreement with the government in Sept. 2, …

  • Noy to raise sea dispute issue with Abe
    Noy to raise sea dispute issue with Abe

    President Aquino is expected to raise the West Philippine Sea dispute during his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan next week. However, there is no word yet if the Philippines will specifically ask Tokyo to join calls for China to stop its massive reclamation activities in disputed waters. Aquino will leave for Tokyo on June 2 for a state visit until June 5. …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options