Saturday, July 2, 2016

[Archaeology • 2016] Earliest “Domestic” Cats in China Identified as Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis)


The ancestor of all modern domestic cats is the wildcat, Felis silvestris lybica, with archaeological evidence indicating it was domesticated as early as 10,000 years ago in South-West Asia. A recent study, however, claims that cat domestication also occurred in China some 5,000 years ago and involved the same wildcat ancestor (F. silvestris). The application of geometric morphometric analyses to ancient small felid bones from China dating between 5,500 to 4,900 BP, instead reveal these and other remains to be that of the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). These data clearly indicate that the origins of a human-cat ‘domestic’ relationship in Neolithic China began independently from South-West Asia and involved a different wild felid species altogether. The leopard cat’s ‘domestic’ status, however, appears to have been short-lived—its apparent subsequent replacement shown by the fact that today all domestic cats in China are genetically related to F. silvestris.

Fig 2. Geometric morphometric analyses of the five archaeological Chinese cat mandibles.
 Left column: lateral view of the mandibles—the first and the fourth specimens being transposed right side left, the scale bare represents 1cm. Middle column: Boxplot comparison of centroid size of the archaeological specimen (A), with those of modern: domestic cat (Dom), leopard cat (Pb), European wildcat (Fss) and SW Asian wildcat (Fsl). Right column: species identification of the specimen based on discriminant analyses computed on mandible shape variables. Percentages within brackets correspond to the probability of being identified as Pb.

Fig 1. Modern distribution of wild felid species, archaeological site location and mandible shape relationship between modern wild felid species and domestic cat.
(A), Modern Old World distribution of the different wild cat subspecies (Felis silvestris) and the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), and location of the three Middle-Late Neolithic sites of the Shaanxi and Henan Provinces (China) analyzed in this paper: 1, Quanhucun, 2, Wuzhuangguoliang, 3, Xiawanggang;
 (B), Phenotypic relationship (unrooted neighbour joining tree) built on mandible shape distances between modern domestic cat (F. catus), leopard cat (P. bengalensis) and the two relevant sub-species of wild cat (F. s. silvestris; F. s. lybica) from our analyses.  DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0147295 

Jean-Denis Vigne, Allowen Evin, Thomas Cucchi, Lingling Dai, Chong Yu, Songmei Hu, Nicolas Soulages, Weilin Wang, Zhouyong Sun, Jiangtao Gao, Keith Dobney and Jing Yuan. 2016. Earliest “Domestic” Cats in China Identified as Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). PLoS ONE. 11(1): e0147295.  DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0147295

Earliest Cat Domesticated in China Was the Leopard Cat, Scientists Say via @NatGeo