What do you do when you have a mouse problem? Get a cat, of course. 5,300 years ago, Chinese villagers were using the same tactic to rid their houses of rodents. And we can thank these long-ago villagers for our feline friends’ domestication today.

Paleontologist Yauwu Hu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Anthropologist Fiona Marshall from Washington University in St. Louis worked with a number of other researchers from China on the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that looked at fossilized cat bones from Quanhucun, a rural area in Northern China.

The feline fossils showed that the cats had munched on smaller animals, who in turn ate millet. Millet was one of the main crops that farmers in Quanhucun harvested – indicating that the rodents eaten by cats were pillaging the Chinese farmers’ grain stores.

The fossils from Quanhucun corroborate the hypothesis that cat researchers and anthropologists alike mostly adhere to: that cats were domesticated due to humans’ use of them to kill pests who were thieving their food supplies.

Previous evidence of feline domestication dated back to 4,000 years ago, making these findings the earliest evidence of the domestication of the internet’s favorite internet meme celebrity: the cat.

Source: Hu, Y., Hu, S., Wang, W., Wu, X., Marshall, F. B., Chen, X., … & Wang, C. (2014). Earliest evidence for commensal processes of cat domestication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(1): 116-120.

The Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, New York, is pleased to sponsor Paleontology content for This View of Life. Founded in 1932, PRI has outstanding programs in research, collections, and publications, and is a national leader in development of informal Earth science education resources for educators and the general public.

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Published On: January 16, 2014

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