The oldest known physical and genetic evidence of the domestication of cats was reported by Yaowu Hu with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Dr. Fiona Marshall, professor of archaeology at Washington University in Saint Louis, in the Dec. 16, 2013, issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The presence of cats in the ancient Chinese village of Quanhucun 5,300 years ago was confirmed by carbon dating of two cat fossil skeletons found in the area and by DNA analysis of the ancient cat’s diets.
The DNA of both cats displayed evidence of consuming rodents (rats) that had fed on millet. Millet was a common food crop grown in the Quanhucun area at the time the cats lived. One of the cats was older and demonstrated evidence of a higher amount of millet in its diet that could be evidence of scavenging or domestication.
The researchers cannot specifically state that these cats were domesticated by humans. The evidence of the animal’s diets and their proximity to people argues for a mutually beneficial relationship with people that may have been domestication.
The scientists propose that wildcats were attracted to the rodents that fed on the millet and eventually became domesticated. The oldest known domesticated cats that were previously known have been found in Egypt and date to about 4,000 years ago.