Cats, one of the world's most popular pets, were domesticated for the first time about 5,300 years ago in China's Shaanki region, a new study says.

"There are, at least, three lines of scientific investigation that allow us to describe the history of the domestication of cats," Fiona Marshall, a professor of archaeology at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, said.

The data indicate that cats approached ancient agricultural villages attracted by small animals, such as rodents who ate the cultivated and stored grains there, Marshall wrote in an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The oldest proof discovered to date of a close relationship between cats and humans comes from the remains of a feral cat buried near a human body in Cyprus, some 9,500 years ago.

But the first proof of the domestication of cats is found in the art of Ancient Egypt from some 4,000 years ago, and there had been no evidence for any relationship between humans and cats for the 5,500 years between those two dates.

The results of this study, however, prove that the village of Quanhucun was a source of food for cats about 5,300 years ago and that the relationship between humans and cats by that time was one of mutual advantage. EFE