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Chicken domestication roasting

New research reveals relatively recent origins of chicken domestication.

Until recently, it was believed that chickens were domesticated about 10,000 years ago, somewhere across a broad swathe of Asia. After that, they were thought to have arrived in Europe over 7,000 years ago.

New research paints an entirely different picture, based on a detailed study of chicken bones from 600 sites in 89 countries. The oldest bones of a domesticated chicken come from a farming community at Ban Non Wat in Central Thailand, dating to between 2,650 and 1,250 BC. Most likely, the arrival of dry rice faming into Southeast Asia served as a magnet to attract wild jungle fowl down from the trees. This started a much closer relationship between people and the fowls that resulted in the domesticated chicken.

Sometime after 1500 BC, chickens were carried across Asia and throughout the Mediterranean region, most likely along long-established Phoenician, Greek, and Etruscan trade routes. Domesticated fowls did not reach Europe until about 800 BC, but it took almost a millennium longer for them to become established in the colder environments of Scandinavia and other northern locales, including Iceland. It is clear that sea routes, which depended heavily on grain to feed ship’s crews, were an important catalyst for the spread of what became an ubiquitous part of the human diet.

And the lesson to be learned from this drastic redating of domestication is that only careful analysis of actual chicken bones and their archeological contexts provide accurate information on events like this. Anything else is just speculation.

Want more in-depth archaeology? Read Archaeology Worldwide magazine.

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