How the wild jungle fowl turned the hen | Science

From hen biryani to khao mun gai, hen and rice is a successful combo worldwide. However the two are extra inextricably linked than even cooks realized. A pair of latest archaeological research recommend that with out rice, chickens might have by no means existed.

The work reveals that chickens might have been domesticated 1000’s of years later than scientists thought, and solely after people started cultivating rice inside vary of the wild purple jungle fowl, in Thailand or close by in peninsular Southeast Asia, says Dale Serjeantson, an archaeologist on the College of Southampton who was not concerned with the analysis. The research, she says, have “dismantled many of the hoary myths about chicken origins.”

Charles Darwin proposed that chickens descended from the purple jungle fowl—a colourful tropical fowl within the pheasant household–as a result of the 2 look a lot alike. However proving him proper has been troublesome. 5 types of jungle fowl vary from India to northern China, and small hen bones are uncommon in fossil websites.


In 2020, a examine of 863 dwelling chickens’ genomes confirmed that the jungle fowl Gallus gallus spaedicus subspecies was the ancestor of living chickens; chickens share extra of their DNA with that subspecies than different sorts of jungle fowl. That in flip narrowed the location of domestication to Southeast Asia. Researchers have proposed fossils as early chickens relationship again 8000 to 11,000 years in the past in northern China and Pakistan. However genetics of dwelling birds couldn’t slim the window for domestication, says geneticist Ming-Shan Wang, a postdoc on the College of California, Santa Cruz, first creator of the genetic examine. And so they haven’t been in a position to get sufficient historical DNA from fossil chickens to pinpoint the date. So paleo-anatomist Joris Peters of Ludwig Maximilian College of Munich teamed up with Greger Larson, a bioarchaeologist on the College of Oxford who’s an knowledgeable on animal domestication. The duo organized a global group that started a complete reevaluation of hen bones, their dates, and information on them, from greater than 600 archaeological websites world wide. In a separate examine, the group immediately dated hen bones present in western Eurasia and Northern Africa.

They discovered the oldest bones of possible chickens got here from a web site known as Ban Non Wat in central Thailand, the place farmers grew rice 3250 to 3650 years in the past, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Farmers buried many skeletons of younger members of the genus Gallus as grave items together with different domesticated animals—sturdy proof that these birds had been domesticated chickens, somewhat than wild jungle fowl. The researchers suggest that the rice seeds drew wild jungle fowl to rice fields, the place the birds nested in thickets on the fringe of the fields and bought used to people.

Because the scientists traced the path of hen bones throughout Asia into the Center East and Africa, they discovered a “striking” correlation between the unfold of dry rice farming, millet, and different grains—and the looks of chickens. Chickens appeared about 3000 years in the past in northern China and India, the group discovered, and about 2800 years in the past within the Center East and Northeast Africa. The research discovering earlier chickens had been flawed, the group argues, as a result of both the fossils weren’t chickens or the dates had been inaccurate.


To search out out when chickens first entered Europe, members of the group immediately re-dated bones from 23 of the proposed earliest chickens in Europe and Asia. The first chickens in Europe were found in an Etruscan site in Italy 2800 years ago, the group experiences in Antiquity at present.

The examine is backed up by historic information, too—together with the Bible. “Chickens don’t feature in the Old Testament,” says the examine’s lead creator Naomi Sykes, an archaeologist on the College of Exeter. “They burst onto the scene in the New Testament.”


Researcher compares leg bones of an ancient and modern chicken
When researchers re-dated these hen bones from England and Bulgaria, they discovered that the supposedly historical one from Bulgaria dated as a substitute to the twentieth century.Jonathan Rees/Cardiff College

It took one other 1000 years earlier than chickens unfold north to Britain (with the Romans), Scandinavia, and Iceland. The subtropical birds possible needed to adapt to the colder climates, says archaeologist Julia Better of Cardiff College, who was concerned in each research.

Nonetheless, it’s solely not too long ago that people started to think about the birds primarily as meals. Initially, individuals traded them as unique possessions, valued for his or her feathers, coloring, and loud crow at first mild, primarily based on how they had been depicted in artwork and buried as prized grave items, Sykes says. Early chickens had been smaller, she notes, and never a significant supply of meat. However the group’s evaluate exhibits that about 500 years after chickens are launched to every new place, they lose their particular standing and develop into an odd meals.


The research present that “the dispersal of domestic chickens is a more recent event than has been expected in the past,” says Masaki Eda, a zooarcheologist at Hokkaido College.

Nonetheless, Eda says he’d wish to see follow-up analysis to ensure the bones in Thailand are undoubtedly domesticated chickens, not wild junglefowl buried with people. He additionally needs researchers to survey different websites in Southwest Asia to attach the dots displaying the place and the way chickens had been domesticated as rice and millet cultivation unfold all through Eurasia.

Despite the fact that chickens had been domesticated later than different animals, they’ve develop into probably the most profitable domesticated species on the planet, Larson says. Right this moment, at 80 billion sturdy, they outnumber us 10 to 1. “This isn’t just about chickens or rice,” Sykes says. “How humans relate to chickens is a brilliant lens to understand how humans relate to the natural world.”

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