Remains of Italy’s oldest chicken found near Rome

(ORDO NEWS) — Paleo zoologists examined two fragments of bird bones, which were found together with cremated human remains in a burial urn of the 10th – first half of the 9th century BC from the Montecucco necropolis.

Morphological analysis showed that these bones belonged to the oldest known domestic chicken in Italy. Probably the bird or part of it was used as a ritual offering. This is reported in an article published in the journal Quaternary International.

In the 21st century, chickens have become the most numerous vertebrates. Their population is estimated at about 22 billion heads, with about 60 billion individuals annually sent under the knife.

Modern domestic chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) are descended from the wild Banking jungle chickens (G. gallus) that live in the humid forests of Southeast Asia.

Although the timing of the domestication of these birds remains a matter of debate, recent genetic studies have shown that all domestic chickens are descended from birds inhabiting southwestern China, northern Thailand and Myanmar.

Remains of Italys oldest chicken found near Rome 2
Fragment of the humerus of a chicken

The time of the appearance of chickens in Europe is also a debatable issue. Scientists suggest that these birds were brought from the Levant, that is, along the Mediterranean route, or ended up in Europe through the territory of Northern China.

So, according to one hypothesis, the spread of chickens was associated with the resettlement of the Phoenicians. Although chicken meat and eggs were used as food, birds had important ritual significance in ancient times.

The bright birds that greet the beginning of the day with a loud crow could well have been part of the mythology and ceremonial, which included cockfights.

For example, a study of chicken remains from Britain showed that for a long time local residents raised mainly roosters, which sometimes even lived to be two to four years old. In many parts of Europe, it appears that.

Remains of Italys oldest chicken found near Rome 3
The location of the Italian monuments of the 10th-5th centuries BC, where the remains of chickens were found. The asterisk and the number 1 indicate the Montecucco necropolis

Chiara Assunta Corbino from the University of Sheffield, together with colleagues from the UK and Italy, examined the remains of birds found in a house-like burial urn from the Montecucco necropolis, which is located in the Italian city of Castel Gandolfo.

Archaeologists attribute this burial to the culture of Latsia and date it to the first half of the 9th century BC or the 10th to the beginning of the 9th century BC. Past research has shown that the burial urn contained the cremated remains of a youth or teenager, as well as two bird bones.

Paleozoologists noted that the bird remains are represented by the ulna and humerus, the maximum length of which is 22.2 and 21.2 millimeters, respectively. These bone fragments turned out to be badly burned, so scientists have suggested that the bird or part of it was on the funeral pyre along with the deceased, possibly as a ritual offering.

Morphological analysis of these finds has shown that the bones exhibit traits characteristic of domestic chickens that distinguish them from other members of the Galliformes order that inhabit Italy.

The scientists noted that theoretically the chicken bones could be confused with the remains of an ordinary pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) or common guinea fowl (Numida meleagris). However, their presence in Italy at that time is unlikely, since both species were introduced to the region much later.

Paleo zoologists emphasized that they did not radiocarbon analyze these bones, as this would have required the destruction of one or both of the fragments. However, in their opinion, the context of the finds is sufficiently reliable to accept the initial dating – no later than the first half of the 9th century BC.

Thus, the bones examined represent the oldest remains of a chicken in Italy. Previously, these were considered to be the remains of birds and eggshells, which date back to the 8th century BC.

However, the widespread distribution of chickens in Italy, apparently, occurred a little later – from the 6th century BC, and until about the 3rd century BC, their remains are found mainly in ritual and funerary contexts.


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