Researchers discover 6,200-year-old cat remains in Poland, where the animals lived "somewhere between wild and domesticated" on the periphery of human agricultural settlements.
- Cat bones were found in four caves in southern Poland from 4,200 BC. BC Discovered
- The bones are one of the earliest examples of cats living in Northern Europe
- The analysis of the bones shows that they lived mainly from eaten rodents that were not yet fully domesticated, but were also no longer completely wild
Researchers in Poland have discovered the remains of a cat that dates back to 4,200 BC. Chr. This "unexpected" discovery suggests that cats had spread much further and earlier in Europe than previously thought.
The discovery was made by a team of archaeozoologists from Nicolaus Copernicus University who excavated four caves in southern Poland that were home to early agricultural settlements.
Buried in layers of sediment next to ceramic vessels, the team found the humerus of a cat that they were surprised to find was thousands of years older than expected.
"We expected cat remains to be no older than when the Common Era began, as suggested by other archaeological finds from Europe," team leader Magdalena Krajcarz told Inverse.
"The Neolithic age of these cats was something we didn't even consider a hypothesis."
The oldest known evidence of cats in Europe was a sample found in Cyprus, which is believed to be 9,500 years old. However, there is little evidence that cats live near people in Central or Northern Europe.
The ancestors of the modern domestic cat lived together with Neolithic farmers in a region known as the Fertile Crescent, which ranges from Egypt via southern Turkey and the Tigris and the Euphrates to the Persian Gulf.
These farmers lived with a variety of domesticated animals, including dogs, goats, sheep and cows.
At that time, cats existed as a kind of satellite that orbited these settlements and fed on rodents and other small animals that were attracted to the fields and food.
Krajcarz describes cats from this period as "somewhere between wild and domesticated and possibly also wild".
"For millennia, cats have been natural human allies in the constant battle against rodents and not domestic animals."
When these Neolithic peasants migrated north, cats appeared to have followed without ever being fully integrated or domesticated in their communities.
Fertile Crescent farmers seem to have first arrived in Poland a little over 6,000 years ago, around the same time that the cat samples came from.
The team analyzed the chemical composition of the bone samples and compared them to samples from 34 other species in the region to learn more about the life of the cat.
Isotopes from the bone samples indicate that the cat's diet was similar to other wild cats in the region, indicating that the cats were probably not yet fully domesticated.
It is still unclear when and how cats were domesticated in Europe and what major changes in culture and lifestyle could have accompanied this change.
The team hopes that their results could trigger a new wave of research documenting how cats were domesticated in Europe.
"We don't give up cats," said Krajcarz. "This is just the beginning of a more in-depth study of cat history."