Cat remains reveal they were domesticated much earlier

The earliest signs of domesticated cats have been from ancient Egypt, about 4,000 years ago. It's one of the more touching mysteries of human history: When did animals become pets?

For dogs, the answer seems to lie in 12,000-year-old graves in the Levant (the regions bordering the eastern Mediterranean), where puppies have been carefully buried.

Until now. A paper published today in the journal Science records the discovery of a cat that may have been a pet, buried 9,500 years ago in a Neolithic village on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

The body of the eight-month-old kitten was in its own burial hole about 40 centimetres from where a human body had been laid to rest with polished stones, axes, ochre, flint tools and 24 seashells, report

According to But the relationship between the skeletons of man and cat, buried 9,500 years ago in shallow pits, are as ambiguous as the friendship between cats and humans today.

Was the animal a pet? It was buried with great care just 40 centimetres from the man, close to a collection of personal treasures, and both were arranged to face west. More than that, archeologist Jean-Denis Vigne can't tell.

Its skeleton shows no sign of being butchered, leading to the idea that it died a natural death and was buried out of respect, so carefully that the bones remained connected.

Egyptian art and mummified cats, beginning before 2000 B.C., had been the earliest clear evidence of cats in human culture, though scholars had suspected a deeper history. Stone or clay figurines of cats found in Syria, Turkey and Israel encouraged speculation of a link between cat domestication and the origins of agriculture in the region, even before 7500 B.C. The island of Cyprus is a short distance from the mainland.

The human and feline skeletons, lying less than 18 inches apart, were buried at the same depth and in the same sediment and were similarly preserved. They were presumably buried at the same time, the archaeologists said, and perhaps the cat was killed so it could accompany its owner into the afterworld.

"The burial of a complete cat without any signs of butchering reminds us of human burials and emphasizes the animal as an individual," Dr. Vigne's group wrote. "The joint burial could also imply a strong association between two individuals, a human and a cat,"

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