By Joe Pinkstone For Mailonline
Published: 00:01 BST, 12 May 2020 | Updated: 00:09 BST, 12 May 2020
Hares may have been domesticated almost 5,000 years ago in China, a study has discovered.
Evidence from 54 buried hares revealed they lived on a diet including crops grown by Neolithic farmers in a remote part of China on the Loess Plateau.
It is believed the hares may have developed spiritual or religious importance in the local culture and were therefore fed by the farmers.
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Pictured, the skull of a desert hare (Lepus capensis) from Yangjiesha studied in the research, Researchers believe humans in China 5,000 years ago may have placed spiritual importance in the animals and fed them their crops
Pictured, a desert hare, the kind found in and around Yangjiesha. Scientists claim the long-eared animal likely developed a close relationship with people living in this remote part of China on the Loess Plateau
Pengfei Sheng from Fudan University, who led the research, said: 'We find a pet-like human-hare relationship beyond the hunter and the hunted in the Neolithic China.'
Fifty-four hares were found around the early millet farming communities of Yangjiesha, China and anlsysis revealed they lived around 2900-2800 BC.
Four human remains, six dogs and 27 pigs were also found.
Writing in the study, Dr Pengfei Sheng and his co-authors say: 'As millet-based agricultural systems expanded throughout the Loess Plateau, desert hares and humans developed a commensal relationship, much like other animal species associated with the increasingly abundant crop plants in and around Neolithic settlements.'
Analysis of the remains focused on isotope analysis which is influenced by an animal's diet and lifestyle.