Which came first?

Where did domestic chickens come from? A new study reveals the origins of the modern fowl

Some cultures revered them before they became a dietary staple.

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Chickens are present on every continent except Antarctica. However, it’s not entirely clear when, where, or why the familiar fowl was first domesticated.

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Previous research alleged that chickens were first domesticated 8,000 years ago in China, and spread into Northwest Europe by the Iron Age (during the first century BCE).

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But two new studies report that chickens may have been domesticated much more recently.

Writing in the journals Antiquity and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers finally cracked where and why domestic chickens became an everyday part of human life.

Robert May

Julia Best and Grace Clark

Using radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis, they reevaluated data from previous studies and traced back the oldest chicken bones across the globe.

A Neolithic site in modern-day Thailand called Ban Non Wat holds the remains of the oldest known domesticated chickens, dating between 1650 and 1250 BCE.

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Jacqueline Pitt

From there, it would take until 800 BCE for chickens to arrive in the Mediterranean.

And it wasn’t until the first century CE that Northwestern Europe began to sustain its own chicken populations.

So what kickstarted the domestication of chickens?

The researchers argue that the budding practice of dry rice cultivation attracted wild junglefowl species that were eventually domesticated by humans.

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The chicken icons in this graphic show the overlap of early fowl remains with dry rice farming sites in Southeast Asia.

Peters et. al, PNAS

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And in faraway places like Western Europe, chickens were initially treated as exotic animals, rather than common sources of food.

In Late Iron Age Britain and France, chickens were depicted on coins and people refrained from eating them due to their rarity.

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“Our evidence shows that our past relationship with chickens was far more complex, and that for centuries chickens were celebrated and venerated.”

-Study co-author Naomi Sykes, in a statement.

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