A new discovery led to the conclusion that cats were likely domesticated twice through history and in two separate regions. The relationship between humans and the furry felines that rule the internet has always been complicated. However, it appears that we have managed to tame them and bring them into our homes twice.
The oldest evidence of domesticated cats is almost 10,000 years old, around the 7500 BC on an island in Cyprus. The cute little pets that we have today in our homes are a direct subspecies of that cat, the Felis silvestris lybica, or the Near Eastern wildcat. The timeline falls well in place with humans developing agriculture and farming.
Cats were used to keep rodents away from crops and storage houses. At the very least, that had been their purpose in Africa and the Middle East. However, it appears that it was not the same in China. While today’s near 500 million cats are descendants from the wildcat, that was not the only species of cat in the world that was domesticated.
A team of researchers, led by Jean-Denis Vigne, the director of the French National Center for Scientific Research, analyzed a set of cat bones unearthed in the Chinese village of Quanhucun 15 years ago. The remains dated as far back as 5,300 years ago, but do not belong to the Near Eastern wildcat. They instead are much closer to the local leopard cat named Prionailurus bengalensis. That suggests that both species were domesticated, but separately.
By carefully analyzing the bones, they were able to prove that it belonged to an entirely different species and were not part of the common wildcat that was domesticated in other regions. They examined the size and shape of the bones, and eventually reached their conclusions that they were descendants from the Chinese leopard cat.
The confirmation of domestication was made through other traits found in the bones. For one, the cat was smaller than the wild leopard counterpart, which is a common sign of domestication. The bones were also found in a complete set, which indicates that the body was buried, not eaten by other animals in the wilderness. And there was a wear on its teeth that marks domestication. It hinted that the animal was, in fact, fed by humans.
According to Vigne, there were clear signs of “special treatment”. Their findings suggest that cats, as a species, were domesticated twice, at different times and in different regions. And while there are still leopard cats still found in parts of Asia, nearly all the domesticate cats in the world are descendants of the wildcat, as they were decisively the better pets.
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