Cat Domestication Began With Felines Eating Farmers' Field Mice: Study

Tuesday, 17 Dec 2013 02:13 PM

By Clyde Hughes

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Ancient cats may have found a mutually beneficial relationship with humans some 5,000 years ago in the Chinese village of Quanchucun that led to their domestication, according to Science Daily.

A study in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences journal says farmers were vexed by mice that were eating their grain when they discovered that cats were their natural predators.

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The arrival of cats in the village helped the farmers save grain and cats ate their fill of vermin.

"At least three different lines of scientific inquiry allow us to tell a story about cat domestication that is reminiscent of the old 'house that Jack built' nursery rhyme," Fiona Marshall, professor of archaeology in arts and sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, told Science Daily. "Our data suggest that cats were attracted to ancient farming villages by small animals, such as rodents that were living on the grain that the farmers grew, ate and stored."

Marshall, the study's co-author, told Science Daily that the research is the first direct evidence of human efforts to domesticate cats.

"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," Marshall said. "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."

The Los Angeles Times reported that researchers have long thought that cat domestication was related to agriculture. Scientists theorized that wildcats found farms a haven for food scraps, along with rats and mice.

Prehistoric humans likely appreciated the cats' mice-hunting prowess and found them a place to stay.

The LA Times wrote that the oldest proof of a human-cat bond comes from the island of Cyrus 9,500 years ago where archaeologists discovered the full skeleton of a wildcat buried near a human. Scientists told the newspaper that the closeness of the two skeletons suggests the cat might have been tamed and had some relationship with the human.

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