For many years, bird lovers have decried the domestic cat as a decimator of songbird populations. They have backed up their arguments with the statement that house cats area non-native species, and birds haven’t evolved to cope with their predation.
However, an increasing body of evidence is showing that domesticated cats have, in fact, been part of life in the Americas for at least 4,000 years.
In 2007, a team of archaeologists working in the New Mexican desert found evidence of what appear to be domestic cats dating back to the Archaic Period (8,000 to 2,000 BCE).
This wasn’t entirely unexpected, said one of the researchers, since most scientists accept that in other parts of the world such as Egypt and the Fertile Crescent, cats “sort of domesticated themselves” when humans gave up their nomadic lives and became agriculture-based civilizations.
Then, in November of 2010, researchers at the Ventarrn archaeological site in Peru found 3,500-year-old evidence of cat domestication.
Work at the site, home of the Lambayaque people, one of the oldest civilizations in the Americas, has revealed a large collection of animal bones, most of which are feline and seem to be from cats from the Peruvian Amazon on the eastern side of the Andes mountains.
Archaeologist Ignacio Alva, who led the research team, then brought in zoologists Victor Vsquez and Teresa Rosales from the Center of Andean Archaeobiological and Paleoecological Investigation of Trujillo.
After an investigation, the multi-disciplinary team concluded that the Lambayaque were breeding cats at the site. They surmise that the reason for the domestication is no different than it was for other ancient civilizations–to help control rodents in a rapidly expanding agricultural culture.
Vsquez and Rosales are now studying four puma-like cat skeletons to see whether they show any differences from the skeletons of wildcats that exist today. The results of their work will determine whether the Lambayaque were doing selective breeding, and if so, what for.