Scientists say cat's appetite led to taming
NEW YORK — A cat-and-mouse game played out in a Chinese village about 5,300 years ago is helping scientists understand how wild felines transformed into the tame pets we know today.
In fact, it was the cat's appetite that started it down the path to domestication, scientists believe. The grain stored by ancient farmers was a magnet for rodents. And that drew wild cats into villages to hunt the little critters. Over time, wild cats adapted to village life and became tamer around their human hosts.
That's the leading theory, anyway, for how wild cats long ago were transformed and became ancestors of today's house cats. That happened in the Middle East, rather than China. But bones from the Chinese village back up the idea that felines took on the pest-control job in ancient times, says researcher Fiona Marshall of Washington University in St. Louis.
Marshall is an author of a report on the fossil research, published online Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences The study, focused on an agricultural village in northern China, is from a poorly understood time in the history of cats.
The first evidence of domesticated cats occurs much later, in Egyptian artwork from about 4,000 years ago.
So what went on in that village?
Researchers found signs that rodents were threatening the village grain supply. Storage vessels were designed to keep them out, and rodents had burrowed into a grain-storage pit.
In the ancient feline bones, chemical signatures indicated that the cats had eaten animals that in turn had fed on millet, a grain crop known to be harvested by the villagers. So apparently, the cats were indeed eating the rodents.
It's not yet clear whether the cats were from a local wild population, or were already domesticated and had been brought in from elsewhere, Marshall said. Either way, it shows that ancient cats filled the niche at the heart of the hypothesis about how domestication began, she said.
Greger Larson of Durham University in England called the new work “an important step forward.” Few studies have focused on how cats became domesticated, in contrast to dogs, pigs and sheep, he said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Doctor 1st Ebola virus case in New York City
- Federal officials: Dallas nurse free of Ebola
- Fight against Islamic State at impasse, military commanders say
- Feds fault security of tax info gathered for health care law benefits
- Court: IRS not targeting conservative tax-exempt groups
- EPA hopes grants will reduce Lake Erie algae
- Defacements in national parks lead to outrage, probe
- West Virginia University warns students over riots
- Coburn’s final ‘Wastebook’ tallies $25B in what he considers ‘pork’
- Man shot from behind, Wecht’s autopsy finds
- Internet providers asked not to take ‘fast lanes’