Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Domesticated Cats Found In Ancient China

RESEARCH has shown that cats were domesticated and living alongside farmers around 5,300 years ago in the ancient village of Quanhucun in Hunan.

It seems the story of domestication is similar to the old nursery rhyme, This Is The House That Jack Built, which includes the lines:

This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built. 
This is the rat that ate the malt 
That lay in the house that Jack built. 

 This is the cat that killed the rat 
That ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.

Research suggests cats were attracted to ancient farming villages to kill animals like rats who were eating the grain stored by farmers. So the cats soon became a welcome addition to the household. Even if these cats were not fully domesticated, the Quanhucun archaeological dig shows they lived in close proximity to farmers, and that the relationship had mutual benefits.

 Before the cats were found at Quanhucun during an archaeological dig, it was believed they were first domesticated in ancient Egypt, where they were kept some 4,000 years ago. It could that there was a close relationship between cats and humans much earlier. A wild cat was discovered buried with a human nearly 10,000 years ago in Cyprus.

In Quanhucun, a Chinese archaeological team analysed eight bones from at least two cats. The team demonstrated how a breed of once-wild cats found a place with the farmers who grew millet. Carbon and nitrogen isotopes show that cats were preying on animals, probably rats and mice,  that lived on the farmed millet.

A rodent burrow into a storage pit and the rodent-proof design of grain storage pots suggest farmers had problems with rodents.

There are other clues that relationship between cats and humans was quite close. One of the cats was elderly, showing that it survived well in the village and was possibly fed by humans. Another appeared not to have eaten many rodents but had still lived to a good age.

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