We log into live streams of cats sitting in front of Christmas-themed fireplaces. There's a cat documentary film festival in Brooklyn, New York, and most YouTube cat videos are insta-hits. There's no denying people love their cats. But just how long have humans had feline friends? More than 5,000 years, according to a new study.
The researchers studied the fossilized bones of
multiple cats that are believed to have lived alongside farmers in rural China some 5,300 years ago.
These cats likely attacked rodents that got into the farmers’ food supplies and ate food scraps left behind by humans. There’s also a chance they were fed by humans, the team concluded.
"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," Fiona Marshall, a co-author of the study from Washington University in St. Louis, said in a statement. "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."
Published Dec. 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study analyzed eight bones from at least two cats. The bones were found in Quanhucun, in China’s Shaanxi Province. At least one of the cats lived into old age. The cat’s age, the researchers said, indicates that humans looked after it.
Based on bones, burrows and architectural signs found near the remains, the other cat – or cats – feasted on rodents, which were a problem for local farmers.
The finding fills the gap in the long-standing question of when cats and humans first started living side by side. A 10,000-year-old gravesite in Cyprus contained the remains of a human and a wildcat. The next evidence dates 4,000 years, in art form found in Egypt.
Prior to this finding, its was believed that domesticated cats arrived in China about 2,000 years ago.