Beijing: Farmers in China may have been domesticating wild leopard cats more than 5,000 years ago, a new study has found.
These felines were of a different species than the ancestors of today's house cats, suggesting that at least in the early history of pets, humans may have had two different types of cats keeping them company.
Today's pet cats (Felis catus) descend from the wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) native to the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
It is typically thought that humans and cats first came closer some 10,000 years ago, after the birth of agriculture.
Researchers, led by Jean-Denis Vigne of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris, took a close look at five cat jawbones found at archaeological sites in China's Shaanxi and Henan provinces, dating from 3500 to 2900 BC.
They found that all five jawbones most closely resembled those of the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), a species that still lives in the region today, 'Live Science' reported.
The researchers suspect Asian leopard cats were probably domesticated by the same processes as wildcats in the Near East.
The felines likely followed the rats that were drawn to the grain stores in early Chinese settlements.