Cats Were Farmers' Friends 5K Years Ago

Ancient bones shed light on domestication timeline
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 18, 2013 2:15 AM CST
Cats Were Farmers' Friends 5K Years Ago
Cats have been helping farmers get rid of rodents for more than 5,000 years, researchers say.   (Shutterstock)

Ancient bones unearthed in China have shed new light on how humans came to tame cats—though some cat owners would describe the relationship as being the other way around. Analysis of the cat bones found in a millet-farming village suggest that cats were living alongside humans 5,300 years ago, long before the previous earliest-known records of cats living with people in Egypt 4,000 years ago.

Researchers believe the cats lived in human settlements and were tolerated because of their ability to catch rats and mice, though the remains of an older cat show that its diet was heavy in grain, raising the "possibility that this cat was unable to hunt and scavenged for discarded human food or that it was looked after and fed by people." One puzzle for researchers: Today's domestic cats are all descended from a single subspecies of Middle Eastern wildcat but the Chinese village was a long way outside its range, suggesting ancient traders imported the cats as novelties or even food, the Los Angeles Times reports. (Read more cats stories.)

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