The domestic cat was domesticated in China over 5,000 years ago. An international team researchers have concluded that cats were domesticated in China over 5,000 years ago.
The researchers examined an ancient Chinese domestic cat skeleton and concluded that it is related to a cat species that was once wild in China.
“All the bones belong to the leopard cat, a distant relation of the western wildcat, from which all modern domestic cats are descended,” the press release states.
“The scientists have thus provided evidence that cats began to be domesticated in China earlier than 3000 BC. This scenario is comparable to that which took place in the Near East and Egypt, where a relationship between humans and cats developed following the birth of agriculture.”
Since the DNA was degraded making it impossible to identify the species that way, the researchers instead looked at the mandibles. Small-cat bone structures are very similar and cannot be differentiated using conventional techniques. They used a process called geometric morphometric analysis on five cat mandibles that were 4,900 to 5,500 years old.
“Their work clearly determined that the bones all belonged to the leopard cat ( Prionailurus Bengalensis ). Still very widespread in Eastern Asia today, this wildcat, which is a distant relation of the western wildcat ( Felis silvestris Lybica ), is well-known for its propensity to frequent areas with a strong human presence. Just as in the Near East and Egypt, leopard cats were probably attracted into Chinese settlements by the proliferation of rodents who took advantage of grain stores,” the press release states.
The researchers then ask whether the western domestic cats that replaced the leopard cat after the end of the New Stone Age arrived “in China with the opening of the Silk Road, when the Roman and Han empires began to establish tenuous links between East and West? This is the next question that needs to be answered.”