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People may have kept pet cats 1,000 years ago, fossil finding suggests

Researchers discovered a feline skeleton along the Silk Road that suggests humans had cared for it.

Shelby Brown Editor II
Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
  • She received the Renau Writing Scholarship in 2016 from the University of Louisville's communication department.
Shelby Brown

The cat skeleton found by researchers. 

Ashleigh Haruda/Martin Luther University

The discovery of a nearly-complete cat skeleton on Kazakhstan's Silk Road has lead researchers to hypothesize that cats could've been kept as pets over 1,000 years ago. In a new study published this week in the Journal of Scientific Reports, researchers from Germany, Kazakhstan and Russia reconstructed the ancient feline's life.

Scientists classified the cat as male, and pieced together that he would've eaten a soft diet that was high in protein. In addition, the skeletal remains suggested that the cat might've once fallen and been hurt. But the way the bones healed make it seem like a human, possibly from the pastoral Oghuz tribe, had tried to take care of it. The cat had also lost most of its teeth, suggesting a relatively long life. After the cat died, it was buried. 

"They carefully cared for and tended to this animal throughout its life, providing high quality food and medical care," the researchers said in the study. "Thus, this small cat is not only the earliest known domestic cat on the Silk Road, but also evidence of the complex interface between nomadic and urban cultural world views in a rapidly globalizing world."

The Silk Road, where this cat skeleton was found, was a network of caravan routes that connected central and east Asia with the Mediterranean region. The routes were in use going back to the 2nd century B.C. Researchers originally believed that domesticated cats' origins began in Central Asia much later. 

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