5000 year old bones suggest that the cats were domesticated twice. Until recently, researchers believed that the cats were domesticated on the Cyprus Mediterranean island, 7500 years ago. Most of the cats that live nowadays are related to the Near Eastern wildcat, also known as Felis silvestris lybica.
As new cat bones were found in Quanhucun, which is a Chinese village, the scientists discovered that another domestication of the cats took place, but with a different cat species. The team of researchers who analyzed the bones and reached this conclusion was led by Jean-Denis Vigne, who is the research director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research. After the bones were analyzed, they proved to be 5,300 years old and not belonging to the Near Eastern wildcat. The species is thought to be related to the local leopard cat, also known as Prionailurus bengalensis.
The bones of this cat were discovered 15 years ago in central China, but the scientists who studied the bones back then thought that the cat belonged to the Near Eastern wildcat species and didn’t understand how the cat got there. They believed that trade routes to the Chinese farming village from the Middle East helped the cat get there. And that species was already domesticated.
After analyzing the pelvis and the mandible of the cat, the team of researchers proved that they were wrong. The bones were measured and the shapes were taken into consideration and the conclusion they reached was that the cat belonged to the leopard cat species without any doubt. They also found out that the cat species was also domesticated. The domesticated cats not only are smaller than the wild leopards, but they also eat only small animals. Close to the bones of this cat another one was found that had a complete body, meaning that it was not eaten by a predator. The high number of teeth also prove that they were domesticated, as this is the proof that they were being fed by the villagers. According to Vigne, even though the cats might not have been fully domesticated back then, they still had a good relationship with the humans.
The researchers said that these findings are very important when it comes to understanding the domestication of other animal species as well. Fiona Marshall who is a zooarcheologist stated that if the cats were indeed domesticated twice, then the research will have a big impact in the science domain.
The finding that 5000 year old bones suggest that the cats were domesticated twice was published in the PLOS ONE journal, on Friday.
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