Cat domestication traces back to Chinese farmers 5,300 years ago


Click to enlargePallas’ cat of Central Asia

“At least three different lines of scientific inquiry allow us to tell a story about cat domestication that is reminiscent of the old ‘house that Jack built’ nursery rhyme,” said study co-author Fiona Marshall, PhD…

“Our data suggest that cats were attracted to ancient farming villages by small animals, such as rodents that were living on the grain that the farmers grew, ate and stored.”…The study provides the first direct evidence for the processes of cat domestication.

“Results of this study show that the village of Quanhucun was a source of food for the cats 5,300 years ago, and the relationship between humans and cats was commensal, or advantageous for the cats,” Marshall said. “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…”

While it often has been argued that cats were attracted to rodents and other food in early farming villages and domesticated themselves, there has been little evidence for this theory.

The evidence for this study is derived from research in China led by Yaowu Hu and colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Hu and his team analyzed eight bones from at least two cats excavated from the site.

Using radiocarbon dating and isotopic analyses of carbon and nitrogen traces in the bones of cats, dogs, deer and other wildlife unearthed near Quanhucan, the research team demonstrated how a breed of once-wild cats carved a niche for themselves in a society that thrived on the widespread cultivation of the grain millet.

…Carbon and nitrogen isotopes show that cats were preying on animals that lived on farmed millet, probably rodents. At the same time, an ancient rodent burrow into a storage pit and the rodent-proof design of grain storage pots indicate that farmers had problems with rodents in the grain stores.

Other clues gleaned from the Quanhucun food web suggest the relationship between cats and humans had begun to grow closer. One of the cats was aged, showing that it survived well in the village. Another ate fewer animals and more millet than expected, suggesting that it scavenged human food or was fed.

Recent DNA studies suggest that most of the estimated 600 million domestic cats now living around the globe are descendants most directly of the Near Eastern Wildcat, one of the five Felis sylvestris lybica wildcat subspecies still found around the Old World…

“We do not yet know whether these cats came to China from the Near East, whether they interbred with Chinese wild-cat species, or even whether cats from China played a previously unsuspected role in domestication,” Marshall said.

Wow. Would I ever love to see a docudrama in classic Chinese-film style about this.

Relics from a shrinking religion warehoused in Staten Island

NY Archdiocese jumble shop

There will soon be a rooftop swimming pool where the copper-domed bell towers of Mary Help of Christians once rose.

Formerly a hub of the East Village’s Italian-American community, the site of the Roman Catholic church is now slated for a 158-unit rental building, complete with basement gym and rooftop gardens…much of what was precious inside it — and other now-closed Catholic churches — sits in a Staten Island warehouse…

Some items ended up at the warehouse after the 2007 decision of the Archdiocese of New York to close or shrink 21 parishes. Others came because of renovations. Much more will be coming; the archdiocese plans to announce another round of parish closings in 2014.

The archdiocese has not always had an organized system for dealing with vestments, patens, candle drip guards and myriad other ritual objects when they are no longer needed. Before 2004, some ended up in antique stores or trash cans, while others went to parishioners or other churches.

Then there was realization that “these things, even if they don’t have great financial value, have historical value, or liturgical value, and we should preserve them,” said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese…

In 2007, the archdiocese said it would not sell closing churches to developers, but that turned out not to be the case. Mary Help of Christians was sold in December 2012 to Steiner NYC for $41 million. Near the Holland Tunnel, Our Lady of Vilnius, a former Lithuanian Church, was put on the market by the diocese for $13 million. It sold in October to the Extell Development Company, which is flipping the property and asking $19 million for it. A brochure suggests 22 stories of apartments could be built there…

I presume the usual practice in the United States of allowing tax-free profits will remain in place. Why use profits to aid people who really could use help, eh?

Kevin Shaughnessy, the facilities manager believes most of the decorative effluvia won’t be going anywhere. He said of one favorite, a representation of pregnant Mary, “Chances are, when all of us die and go to heaven, that will still be sitting there.”

The Church – and the public – would be better served by periodic rummage sales.

China’s Chang’e-3 mission to the moon sends back first photos


Lunar lander viewed from Jade Rabbit rover

Jade Rabbit rolled down a ramp lowered by the lander and on to the volcanic plain known as Sinus Iridum at 04:35 Beijing time on Saturday (20:35 GMT).

It moved to a spot a few metres away, its historic short journey recorded by the lander.

On Sunday evening the two machines began photographing each other…


Image of the rover taken from the lunar probe/lander

The first soft landing on the Moon since 1976 is the latest step in China’s ambitious space programme, says BBC science reporter Paul Rincon.

The lander will operate there for a year, while the rover is expected to work for some three months…

According to Chinese space scientists, the mission is designed to test new technologies, gather scientific data and build intellectual expertise. It will also scout valuable mineral resources that could one day be mined.

After this, a mission to bring samples of lunar soil back to Earth is planned for 2017. And this may set the stage for further robotic missions, and – perhaps – a crewed lunar mission in the 2020s.

Bravo. As I mentioned in an earlier post, building a moon base always made more sense to me than the orbiting International Space Station.