Cats domesticated in China earlier than 3000 BC
|Side view of a domestic cat skull from the Neolithic site of Wuzhuangguoliang |
(Shaanxi, 3200-2800 BC) [Credit: © J.-D. Vigne, CNRS/MNHN]
The cat is the most common domestic animal in the world today, with over 500 million individuals. All of today's domestic cats descend from the African and Near Eastern form of the wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica).
|Skull of a Neolithic domestic cat from Wuzhuangguoliang (Shaanxi, 3200-2800 BC). |
The newspaper on which it is placed facilitates calibration of photogrammetric
images for 3D reconstructions [Credit: © J.-D. Vigne, CNRS/MNHN]
In 2001, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing discovered cat bones in agricultural settlements in northern China (Shaanxi province) dating from around 3500 BC. Was this evidence of a relationship between small Chinese cats and humans in the fourth millennium BC in China? Or was it the result of the arrival in China of the first domestic cats from the Near East?
|Using rice grains to measure the cranial capacity of the skull of a |
Neolithic cat from Wuzhuangguoliang (Shaanxi, 3200-2800 BC)
[Credit: © J.-D. Vigne, CNRS/MNHN]
To try to settle the question, a collaboration of scientists principally from CNRS, the French Natural History Museum (MNHN), the University of Aberdeen, the Chinese Academy of Social Science and the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology undertook a geometric morphometric analysis, which, in the absence of ancient DNA, is the only way of differentiating the bones of such small cats, which have very similar morphologies whose differences are often imperceptible using conventional techniques.
|Early domesticated cats in China were leopard cats (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.
In China it was the leopard cat (P. bengalensis) and not the western wildcat (F. silvestris) that started to form a relationship with humans. Cat domestication was, at least in three regions of the world, therefore closely connected to the beginnings of agriculture.
|Leopard catDaran [Credit: Kandasamy/Flickr]|
Did it arrive 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.
The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Source: CNRS [January 26, 2016]