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Friday, January 10, 2014

Clues on How Cats Became Domesticated

Archaeologists in China had found the most recent clues on domesticated cats. The discovery showed that cats first learned to catch mice 5,300 years ago. It was an important clue for the history to one of the world's most popular pet. The evidence supported the fact that cats had a bond with humans around the time that they had developed agriculture. This was after dogs were domesticated, for they helped with hunting thousands of years before. This discovery filled a very big gap in feline history.

Today, all kinds of species of cats came from one kind, which was the Middle Eastern wildcat. Fiona Marshall worked on this discovery and found out that cats came from a village in the center of China called Quanhaucan, but that raises that question of how cats got there. Were they imported as novelties? Maybe the Quanhucan cats were distant relatives of an ancient wildcat. Marshall and her team decided to run DNA tests, which will help them find out what those cats were doing there.

Marshall and her team found at least eight bones of two cats. They were found with shards of ancient pottery, old tools and trash pits. The cat bones seemed very similar to those of the European house cat of today. But they were smaller than the bones of the European wildcat. Part of a jawbone had worn teeth, which suggests that the cat was quite elderly.

More evidence comes from bone tests. Marshall and her team ran tests to examine the carbon and nitrogen found in the bones, and this was supposed to help understand where they fell in the food chain. The cats' diet consisted of  mainly plants or meat. Some more tests showed that Asian cats ate more grain, which suggested that the cats did not know how to hunt very well, or ate the scraps that humans threw away. It's a possibility that there were also taken care of by people.

Scientists suspect that cats were domesticated because of agriculture and their skill to hunt animals. Wildcats were probably attracted to farms because of the food there, and the excessive amount of rats and mice. The farmers probably let them stay because they got rid of the pests. This theory makes sense, but it had been difficult to prove.

The oldest bond between humans and cats drew back to 9,500 years ago on the island Cyprus. Archaeologists found skeletons of a cat lying next to a human. This evidence suggested that they might have been tamed then. The next oldest bond was mainly in Egypt. Unlike the Egyptian cats, the Quanhucan cats were hardly house cats. They were probably more like the cats that live in today's parking garages: felines timid near people, but will accept the occasional handout.

If you would like to see the original post on Newsela, check out this link.

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