Did ancient feral cats find human friends?

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I’ve had the pleasure of slowly enticing a feral cat to come dine on my porch. Little by little he became more tame until one day I was able to touch him. A feline-human bond had been made.

Could a scene like that have happened some 5,000 years ago in a Chinese village? Research published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests it could have.

Goldie, an adoptable cat

Did Goldie, an adoptable pet in Columbia, MO, have ancestors in China?

The study looked at the bones of at least two cats found in Quanhucun in China. The farmers in the area grew millet, and carbon isotopes analyzed from the cats’ remains indicate that they were preying on animals that lived on millet, probably rodents.

“Other clues gleaned from the Quanhucun food web suggest the relationship between cats and humans had begun to grow closer. One of the cats was aged, showing that it survived well in the village. Another ate fewer animals and more millet than expected, suggesting that it scavenged human food or was fed,” according to a press release from Washington University in St. Louis, which was involved in the study.

The words “was fed” really piqued my interest. Was there someone like me taming a feral cat 5,000 or so years ago?

Near Eastern Wildcats are believed to be the primary ancestors of our cats today, but it remains to be seen if the Quanhucun cats are descendants of the Near Eastern Cats. The old belief was that cats were first domesticated in Egypt about 4,000 years ago, but researchers have found the remains of a cat buried with a human in Cyprus from over 8,000 years ago and the Smithsonian suggests that the domestication of cats began around 12,000 years ago based on genetics research. This would mean that cats began to live near humans right around when we first began to grow crops in the Fertile Crescent! Maybe cats and people being better together are why civilization was able to flourish! Stay tuned because more research is underway.

Learn when the domestication of dogs occurred.