The relationship between humans and cats, it turns out, has always been complicated.
The oldest archaeological evidence for domesticated cats can be traced back to 7500 BC, on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. All domestic cats today, for the most part, are related to that subspecies – Felis silvestris lybica, or the Near Eastern wildcat.
But a new analysis of cat bones found in the Chinese village of Quanhucun suggests that there was a second domestication of cats, this time with a different species.
Using a differentiation method called geometric morphometrics, researchers led by Jean-Denis Vigne, the director of research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Paris, were able to conclude that the Chinese cat bones, dating back to about 5,300 years ago, do not belong to the Near Eastern wildcat species. Rather, they much more closely resemble the local leopard cat, or Prionailurus bengalensis.