Ancient Chinese Cat Fossils Reveal Oldest Known Domesticated Cat

Illustration for article titled Ancient Chinese Cat Fossils Reveal Oldest Known Domesticated Cat

The discovery of 5,300-year-old cat fossils by archaeologists in China provide the oldest known physical and genetic evidence of domesticated cats. Deal with it, Egypt.

A report on the fossil research—published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences—finds that the bones support the theory that feline domestication began with the start of agriculture, when farmers needed the cats for pest control to protect their grain. Chemical signatures of the eight bones (belonging to two different cats) indicate that the cats had eaten rodents that had eaten millet.

That the fossils were found in China, however, is a surprise. Prior to this, the oldest evidence of cats living with humans came from 4,000-year-old tomb paintings in Egypt. In fact, every domesticated cat in the world today is descended from a single subspecies of Middle Eastern wildcat. How the kitties ended up in China—whether they were imported there or are some subspecies that has become extinct—remains a mystery.

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