Cats as pets is not a modern day phenomenon but was prevalent more than 1,000 years ago and they might have accompanied Kazakh pastoralists along the former Silk Road in southern Kazakhstan, said a study based on new analyses done on an almost complete cat skeleton found during an excavation.
An international research team led by Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU), Korkyt-Ata Kyzylorda State University in Kazakhstan, the University of TÃ¼bingen and the Higher School of Economics in Russia has reconstructed the cat's life, revealing astonishing insights into the pets at the time and the research study will appear in the journal "Scientific Reports".
A team led Ashleigh Haruda from the Central Natural Science Collections at MLU studied the bones of a domestic cat that did not have an easy life. "The cat suffered several broken bones during its lifetime," says Haruda. But the cat had most likely made it past its first year of life, indicating that people had taken care of this cat.
The scientist examined the findings of an excavation in Dzhankent, an early medieval settlement in the south of the country populated by the Oghuz, a pastoralist Turkic tribe and picked the well-preserved skeleton of a cat for her study.
Human vs animal skeletons
Usually human bones are found in tact during the excavations but this is quite rare as whole skeleton was found.The tomcat was apparently buried and therefore the entire skull including its lower jaw, parts of its upper body, legs and four vertebrae had been preserved.
Haruda worked together with an international team of archaeologists and ancient DNA specialists, besides taking 3D images and X-rays of its bones, which revealed that the cat "suffered a number of fractures, but survived." From the isotope analyses, they realized that the diet of the animal was very high in protein and fed by humans since the animal had lost almost all its teeth towards the end of its life.
According to Haruda, it is remarkable that cats were already being kept as pets in this region around the 8th century AD: "The Oghuz were people who only kept animals when they were essential to their lives. Dogs, for example, can watch over the herd. They had no obvious use for cats back then," explains the researcher.
Further, it reveals that people cared for such "exotic" animals indicating a cultural change, which was thought to have occurred at a much later point in time in Central Asia. Moreover, the Dhzankent settlement, where the remains of the cat were found, was located along the Silk Road, an ancient caravan route that connected Central and East Asia with the Mediterranean region by land.