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, comes from a poorly understood time in the history of cats. The first evidence of domesticated cats comes 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.
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.Read here.