ST. LOUIS (CBS St. Louis) – Researchers have found that cats have been domesticated companions for humans for 5,300 years.

A study led by Dr. Fiona Marshal, an archaeology professor at Washington University, found that cats resided with farmers in the ancient Chinese village of Quanhucun. These findings refute widely held beliefs that cat domestication commenced in ancient Egypt.

“Results of this study show that the village of Quanhucun was a source of food for the cats 5,300 years ago, and the relationship between humans and cats was commensal, or advantageous for the cats,” Marshall said. “Even if these cats were not yet domesticated, our evidence confirms that they lived in close proximity to farmers, and that the relationship had mutual benefits.”

Isotopic analyses and radiocarbon dating were used to trace cat bones – as well as the bones of other animals – in the village, according to a release from the Washington University newsroom. Their findings painted a portrait of cats that forged a mutually beneficial relationship with humans due to the amount of rodents living in the villagers’ grain supplies.

Researchers are now investigating the ancestry of the cats, to discover whether these cats first learned to interact with humans there, or if a relationship between the two species predates even ancient Quanhucun.

Marshall noted in the release that their findings – as well as the findings of other studies – support their conclusion.

She explained, “At least three different lines of scientific inquiry allow us to tell a story about cat domestication that is reminiscent of the old ‘house that Jack built’ nursery rhyme.”

The study, which involved research from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was published in PNAS this month.

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