About thirty billion chickens live on Earth. This makes this tasty and egg-laying flightless bird the most numerous domestic animal – perhaps after the honey bee. And two new studies now show that the numerical success Gallus gallus domesticus started more than 3,000 years ago in Thailand when the population started growing rice. It attracted groups of red jungle birds (Gallus gallus spadiceus), which previously lived only in the bamboo forests.
When they smoke through the abandoned rice fields and pick for grain in the villages themselves, among pigs and dogs, these chickens turn to humans and vice versa. Due to the abundant food, the hens began to lay more eggs and the roosters lost their territorial instinct.
From Thailand, this domestic chicken spread quite rapidly to China and India, and somewhat more slowly – along with rice cultivation – to the rest of Asia, the Middle East and Africa. In Europe, the chicken was spread from the Mediterranean by Greek and Phoenician traders, around the year 500 BC.
Very old bones not from chickens
Until now, it has often been thought that chickens had been domesticated in China thousands of years earlier or in India about 4,000 years ago. Genetic studies are uncertain: they show that the domestic chicken is descended from the red jungle bird, and that the ancestors of domestic chickens differed from today’s jungle bird populations sometime between 12,000 and 6,000 years ago, but this does not mean that the separation was directly caused by domestication. But in any case, ancient “chicken bones” from China almost certainly originate from pheasants, and bones from India are probably from other wild chicken species.
That all emerges from two comprehensive studies this week PNAS and in antique, where some of the same researchers also collaborated. The authors in PNASexamined almost all archaeological evidence of early chicken farming (more than 600 excavations in 89 countries) along with possible images and written evidence.
IN antique This week, a large, mostly British, research team reports on the exact C14 dating of 23 chicken bones from European excavations. These dates confirm an old suspicion among archaeologists: Chicken bones ‘migrate’ easily between sediment layers and should therefore not be dated based on the soil layer they are found in. The dating of only five of the 23 bones turned out to be consistent with the dating of Their protrusions. Bones from Bulgaria that are said to be from the Late Stone Age, Greek bones from the ‘Bronze Age’ and bones from Morocco from ‘2700 years old’: they all turned out to be modern or highly medieval. And what was also striking: For the first few hundred years after their appearance in Europe, there is no trace of slaughter on the bones, and the animals are often relatively old when they die.
They keep these animals for their entertainment and pleasure
Julius Caesar and De Bello Gallico
According to the researchers, there are clear indications that the chickens were originally used as a status symbol: exotic animals from distant lands, as a sign of the owner’s strong network. A remark by the Roman general Julius Caesar in his From Bello Gallico (ca. 50 BC) also points to this, archaeologists believe. According to Caesar, the British considered eating hares, geese and chickens a divine taboo. “They keep these animals for entertainment and pleasure.”
Coincidentally, the Dutch archaeologist Jorrit Kelder (University of Oxford) was also told this week that his analysis of the origin of Gallus gallus domesticus in the Middle East, to be published later this year in Mediterranean archeology† In that article, he comes to different conclusions, Kelder says by telephone. The chicken has been in the Middle East and the Mediterranean much earlier, Kelder believes. “I see clear indications of images in Minoan Greece from 1800 BC. Also in Egypt one can find quite convincing images of chickens from 1600 BC and Assyrian texts about mad roosters, from around 700 BC. Kelder probably goes back to much older traditions, yet Kelder welcomes the new research: “Super useful and super important that all the archeological dates are now in order, finally! However, I agree with the importance of other sources, such as images. These publications are not the end of a discussion, but the beginning. “