Quanhucun ‘cats’ were a different feline species
Genetic studies suggest that the domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus) is descended from the Near Eastern Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), a subspecies of the widely-distributed Old World Wildcat. The latter has been associated with humans since the early Neolithic, initially as a commensal that preyed on rodents and other pests in early faming settlements. A cat burial from Cyprus, dating to 7350 BC, shows that cats were valued by humans by this time, but domestication was a much later development. The Cypriot cat was large even for a wildcat and well above the size range for a domestic cat. Continue reading
Sacrificial burial from Predynastic Hierakonpolis dates to 3800 – 3600 BC
The remains of six cats were found in a circular pit in an elite graveyard: an adult male, an adult female and two pairs of kittens. The cats were sacrificed as part of a funerary ritual. The ages of the kittens suggest that they belonged to two different litters; furthermore the adult female was too young to have been the mother. The relationship of the male cat to the kittens cannot be determined.
If all these animals were taken from the wild, then four different captures would have been required (the male, the female and each pair of kittens). It is unlikely that this could have been accomplished in short period prior to the sacrifice. Furthermore, the slightly different ages of the kittens suggest they were born outside the natural reproductive cycle of Egyptian wild cats, with a single birth season on spring. It therefore seems likely that the cats were bred in captivity or at least in close association with humans.
The traditional view is that domesticated cats first appeared in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom around 4000 BC or possibly 300 years earlier during the latter part of the Old Kingdom, but this finding pushes the date back to the Predynastic Naqada IC-IIB period (3800 – 3600 BC).
However, the earliest evidence for an association between humans and cats is a 9,500 year old burial from Cyprus containing the remains of a human and a cat.
Open Access http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2014.02.014
- van Neer, W., Linseele, V., Friedman, R. & de Cupere, B., More evidence for cat taming at the Predynastic elite cemetery of Hierakonpolis (Upper Egypt). Journal of Archaeological Science 45, 103-111 (2014).