Cat Domestication Traced to Early Chinese Farms
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Thanks to the unstoppable power of the Internet phenomenon known as the cute pet viral video, even animals are getting their crack at the realm of global celebrity. Here are five famous pets who have landed TV appearances, corporate sponsorships, book contracts and even movie deals from their viral video success.
Henri le Chat Noir
Filmed in moody monochrome, the Henri le Chat Noir oeuvre features world-weary feline Henri, a melancholy and terribly serious little cat who reflects upon his world with resigned, existentialist despair. In French. With subtitles."The cardboard box, a comfort to most cats, was my pit of despair," Henri laments in the latest video. "And when I reached the top, it toppled from the weight of my own ennui." Henri le Chat Noir is the brainchild of William Braden, who created the first of the six videos as a student film project. In April, Ten Speed Press released Henri's first book, "Henri, le Chat Noir: The Existential Musings of an Angst-Filled Cat."
Giant George, The World's Biggest Dog
For several years, the Great Dane named Giant George held the official Guinness record for tallest dog on the planet -- 43 inches. That's measured at the shoulders, mind you. End-to-end, George is about 7 feet long and 250 pounds. For his appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show in 2010, George was given his own row of three seats. "Giant George: Life with the World's Biggest Dog," published in 2012 and written by owner Dave Nasser, earned surprisingly good reviews. Publisher's Weekly: "Startlingly honest and well-written, Giant George's story stands apart from the slew of other dog books on the shelves."
Chris P. Bacon
Born with malformed hind legs, the piglet now known as Chris P. Bacon (sound it out) was saved from euthanasia when Florida veterinarian Len Lucero took pity on the li'l fella. Using spare parts and kids' toys, Lucero built a harness/wheelchair for the piglet and the subsequent videos went viral. That led to a three-book deal with Hay House, publisher of inspirational and self-help books. The titles, to be penned by Dr. Lucero and co-writer Kristina Tracy, are part of Lucero's larger initiative to reach out to and inspire handicapped children. The first book hits shelves this fall.
The stern but fuzzy Internet meme known as Grumpy Cat (real name Tardar Sauce) made her debut with a simple online pic in late 2012. She's since lent her disapproving visage to a million image macros and online gags. Due to her particularly cranky facial expression (caused by feline dwarfism), Grumpy Cat has become a genuine celebrity, with dozens of TV appearances, various Internet awards, an expanding line of merchandise and -- yes -- a book deal. She's got a movie in the works, too. Producer Todd Garner has optioned Grumpy Cat for a Garfield-style feature film adaptation. “You read all of the memes and the comments, and one is funnier than the next," Garner told Deadline Hollywood. "We think we can build a big family comedy around this character.”
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Boo, The World's Cutest Dog
"My name is Boo. I am a dog. Life is good." So reads the digital inscription on the Facebook page of Boo, probably the Internet's single most famous animal. Boo earned celebrity status way back in 2010 when a series of Facebook photos -- either adorably cute or deeply disturbing, depending on your point-of-view -- captured the attention of celebrities like Khloe Kardashian and Ke$ha. The Facebook page now has more than 7 million fans and last year Boo was appointed Official Pet Liason for Virgin America Airlines. Boo has endured his share of celebrity tribulations as well, including a Twitter death hoax and the scandalous disclosure that Boo's owner is … wait for it … a Facebook executive. Now a bonafide merchandising force, Boo has since issued several wall calendars, a line of plush toys, a children's ABC primer, and two hardback photo books: "Boo: The Life of the World's Cutest Dog" and last year's "Boo: Little Dog in the Big City."
The earliest evidence for cat domestication comes from Chinese farms dating to 5,300 years ago, a new study confirms.
While ancient Egyptians loved their felines, it looks like China beat Egypt as being the first to discover the merits of cats. The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pinpoint the early Chinese village of Quanhucun as being the likely ground zero for cat domestication.
“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,” study co-author Fiona Marshall, a professor of archaeology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a press release.
“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.”
She continued, “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. 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.”
Marshall, study leader Yaowu Hu, and their colleagues analyzed eight bones from at least two cats excavated from the site. The researchers found that the cats were eating grain millet grown by the farmers. One of the cats was aged, revealing that it survived well in the village. Yet another ate so much human-grown grain that the researchers suspect it was fed.
The researchers also determined that farmers then were battling rodents, since they found an ancient rodent burrow into a grain storage pit and grain storage pots designed to be rodent proof. It probably didn’t take long for the farmers to figure out that the cats went after the rats and mice, so they were good animals to keep around.
Analysis of dog and pig remains found that these animals were also eating millet, but deer at the site were not.
Cats must have carved a successful niche for themselves in a society that thrived on the widespread cultivation of the grain millet.
The felines at this time descended from the Near Eastern wildcat, which might have been the primary ancestor of all domesticated cats alive today.
“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.
(Image: Phil Roeder, Flickr)