Scientists have clarified the time and circumstances of the domestication of chickens

(ORDO NEWS) — One of the most popular farm animals is chickens, whose number on Earth is already about 19 billion.

Now scientists have managed to clarify the time, place and circumstances of the domestication of chickens, as well as to trace how attitudes towards these birds have changed over the past three and a half millennia.

Initially, it was assumed that chickens were first domesticated about ten thousand years ago in China, India or Southeast Asia, and were first brought to Europe seven thousand years ago.

A new study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that this is not the case: in fact, chickens became domesticated much later.

The process of domestication began in Southeast Asia thanks to the vast paddy fields and the numerous banking jungle chickens ( Gallus gallus ) – the ancestors of our poultry.

According to archaeobotanical data, the mass cultivation of upland rice in the area inhabited by Gallus gallus spadiceus (according to a recent study, this subspecies is the most likely ancestor of the domestic chicken) began about four thousand years ago, and the first people began to deliberately raise chickens around 1500 BC .

After that, a new kind of domestic animals spread across Asia to Europe along with the ancient Greek, Etruscan and Phoenician trading ships.

In the Iron Age in Europe, chickens were not considered “food”: scientists found burials of whole chicken carcasses without traces of butchering, often with people, while roosters were buried with men, and hens with women.

It was not until much later, during Roman times, that chicken and chicken eggs became a popular food item, although in some places, such as Britain, chickens were not eaten until the 3rd century AD.

To clarify the history of domestic chickens, an international team of experts analyzed the bones of these birds, stored in museum collections, found in more than 600 places in 89 countries.

The oldest bones definitely belonging to the domestic chicken (distinguished from the remains of related chicken birds on the basis of a number of osteomorphological features) were found in central Thailand, and their age, according to radiocarbon dating, was approximately 3250-3650 years.

Scientists have clarified the time and circumstances of the domestication of chickens 2
Bones of Moroccan (А), modern (B) and British (С) chickens

In order to clarify the time of penetration of domestic chickens into Europe, scientists estimated the age of the remains of chickens from North Africa and western Eurasia.

It turned out that the oldest bones are much younger than expected, so chickens most likely appeared in Europe no earlier than 800 BC, and after arriving in the Mediterranean region, these birds took almost a thousand years to settle down in the north – in Scandinavia and in the British Isles.

Thus, the new study not only clarifies the timing of the beginning of the domestication of some of the most popular farm animals, but also proves the importance of museum collections and accurate radiocarbon dating in compiling a picture of the ancient world.

Now, having data collected all over the planet in our hands, we can only be surprised that in such a short time (for comparison: horses were domesticated no later than the 20th century BC), these birds managed to spread so widely and become an integral part of our life.


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