The remains of a 1,000-year-old cat, discovered along the Silk Road, tell a remarkable story.

During excavations along the former Silk Road – a network of caravan routes connecting East Asia to the Mediterranean via the Middle East – researchers have made a special discovery. They stumbled upon the remains of a real domestic cat that lived here 1,000 years ago.

Broken bones
The animal did not have an easy life, the researchers write in the journal Scientific Reports . For example, an analysis of the cat’s skeleton shows that the animal broke several bones during its life. And yet the cat survived. Sufficient reason for the researchers to assume that the domestic cat was cared for by humans.

His diet, which the researchers gained more grip on using an isotope analysis of the bones, also points to this. For example, the domestic cat appears to have had a free protein-rich diet compared to the dogs found during excavations in the same area. “The cat must have been human-fed, since it lost nearly all of its teeth by the end of its life,” said researcher Ashleigh Haruda.

Special discovery
A cat that was lovingly cared for more than 1000 years ago by people who lived along the then Silk Road in modern Kazakhstan. It is a very remarkable story. Especially when you consider that this area was inhabited by the Oghuz when the cat was alive: a pastoral tribe that actually only kept animals that were actually useful. “Think about herd animals, such as sheep, goats, horses and camels, but also dogs that could help herding the herd,” Haruda tells Scientias.nl. “These people are traditionally seen as pastoralists, or people who mainly lived on their animals and moved through the landscape. Cats are normally not very mobile and we have never discovered remains of a house cat here and you would not expect that from pastoralists. ”

Via the Silk Road?
And yet this domestic cat apparently captured the heart of itinerant livestock farmers. How the cat got to the pastoralists remains a mystery. “We can’t say exactly what journey this particular cat took, but his DNA indicates that his ancestors most likely came from the Middle East,” said Haruda. At the time, this area (the site of the cat, ed.) Was connected to the Middle East via a collection of trade routes that we refer to today as the Silk Road. It is certainly possible that this individual animal traveled through the Silk Road, or that its ancestors did, but we cannot say that with certainty. ”

Change in behavior
For now, the cat goes into the books as the oldest cat found to date in Kazakhstan. It is also the first cat to be found outside important trading areas along the Silk Road. According to Haruda, the animal as such also testifies to a significant cultural change that was previously believed to have occurred in this area much later. “Previously, animals that we found in areas of pastoralists were always useful: they were animals that you could eat or use during work. But this cat – which could certainly have been useful in a city, as a pest repeller – was apparently being groomed while unable to groom or be helpful. It is something we often see when we find human remains and see that individuals with severe disabilities managed to survive. It testifies that communities cared for their members. This kind of evidence – evidence of certain human behavior – is hard to come by, but of great value to us archaeologists because it gives us a better understanding of the past. With this cat we see a change in human behavior: people keep an animal, even if it is no longer so useful, as if it were a member of their community. And that shows something of the impact that international trade had on people’s attitudes and perspectives. ” but of great value to us archaeologists, because it gives us a better understanding of the past. With this cat we see a change in human behavior: people keep an animal, even if it is no longer so useful, as if it were a member of their community. And that shows something of the impact that international trade had on people’s attitudes and perspectives. ” but of great value to us archaeologists, because it gives us a better understanding of the past. With this cat we see a change in human behavior: people keep an animal, even if it is no longer so useful, as if it were a member of their community. And that shows something of the impact that international trade had on people’s attitudes and perspectives. ”

And finally, it also tells us more about the so widely praised relationship between humans and cats to this day. “It shows that humans and cats have had a complicated relationship for at least 1,000 years, with people taking care of the cats.”

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