Cats and people: we go way back

A recent study claims to provide evidence for commensal relationships between people and cats from 5,300 years ago

A cat exhibition in Kyrgyzstan last year. Photograph: Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP/Getty Images

A cat exhibition in Kyrgyzstan last year. Photograph: Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP/Getty Images

 

Cats have been hanging around with humans for quite a while. Evidence from Cyprus suggests that a human and wildcat were buried together more than 9,000 years ago, and ancient Egyptian art from about 4,000 years ago indicates that cats had been domesticated by then.

A recent study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at the remains of cats from about 5,300 years ago in Quanhucun, China. It claims to provide “the earliest known evidence for commensal relationships between people and cats”.

The researchers looked at isotopes in bones from cats excavated from the early agricultural village. They worked out that the felines consumed millet-based food, and that they preyed on animals that ate farmed grain. “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,” said Fiona Marshall from Washington University in St Louis.


Electronic whiskers
Meanwhile, in another paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it is revealed that researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have made electronic whiskers.

The artificial sensors use composite films of carbon nanotubes and silver nanoparticles that can be painted or printed on to elastic fibres to make the “e-whiskers”, which can respond to pressures as low of one pascal – or “the pressure exerted on a table surface by a dollar bill”.

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