A cat jawbone was first discovered on Cyprus during the 1980s, hinting that humans had tamed these non-native animals. Foxes and other wild animals were also introduced to certain islands around this time, however. While the jawbone was evidence that humans had brought cats from the mainland, it didn't necessarily mean they had tamed them, according to Vigne.
"The first discovery of cat bones on Cyprus showed that human beings brought cats from the mainland to the islands, but we couldn't decide if these cats were wild or tame. With this discovery we can now decide that these cats were linked with humans," he said.
Vigne and his colleagues discovered the burial in Shillourokambos, a large Neolithic village inhabited between 8,300 and 7,000 B.C., which has been excavated under the direction of Jean Guilaine of the Collge de France.
The researchers found a human grave containing a variety of polished stones, tools, jewelry and other items believed to be offerings. A small pit with 24 complete sea shells lay nearby. The skeleton's pelvis was damaged, making it difficult to determine the individual's sex. The offerings were relatively rich for time and region, however, implying that he or she enjoyed some degree of social status.
"The association of this burial with both the sea shells and the cat grave strengthens the idea of a special burial indicating a strong relationship between cats and human beings. Possibly tamed cats were devoted to special activities or special human individuals in the village," Vigne said.
The cat skeleton lay just 40 centimeters away. Both the relative intactness of the skeleton and the surrounding sediment indicated someone had dug a small pit or grave, then placed the cat inside and rapidly covered it. Both skeleto
Contact: Christina Smith
American Association for the Advancement of Science