Today cats are very common and popular pets but this leads also to the interesting question when the relationship between cats and humans started. Then there is the term domestication which means the further consolidation of the relationship in form of a close life together which we would call “keeping animals” or “keeping pets” today. The question when the relationship or even the further domestication of cats started is an interesting issue. Scientists try to answer this question since a long time but it is not easy as ancient cat remains are rare discoveries in archaeological sites.
The last scientific indications were that cats have been first domesticated in ancient Egypt roughly 4,000 years before our time. But the more recent discovery of a wild cat buried with a human over 10,000 years ago in Cyprus indicated that there was a close relationship between cats and humans much earlier but scientist don´t use the term domestication here as there is lack of evidence in the period between 9,500 and 4,000 years. There was simply no other evidence which would suggest that this was the time frame when humans started to domesticate cats. This is why the answer was still that cats were initially domesticated in Egypt.
But now a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences implies that cats already lived together with humans in the ancient agricultural village of Quanhucun in China 5,300 years ago. Study co-author Fiona Marshall Doctor of Philosophy, a professor of archaeology and interim chair of anthropology in Arts and Sciences at the Washington University in St. Louis said:
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. Results of this study show that the village of Quanhucun was a source of food for the cats 5,300 years ago, and the relationship between humans and cats was commensal, or advantageous for the cats. 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. We do not yet know whether these cats came to China from the Near East, whether they interbred with Chinese wild-cat species, or even whether cats from China played a previously unsuspected role in domestication.
That means there are still a lot of questions and that the roots of cat domestication are still not completely enlightened. Scientists now try to find more answers with several new research projects.