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  • Ryan Wittler

An International Study of When, Where, and How Chickens Were Domesticated


A new study from a team of researchers in the U.K., Germany, France, and Argentina transforms our understanding of the circumstances and timing of the domestication of chickens.

Study highlights:

Previous studies have suggested that chickens were domesticated around 6000 BC in China, Southeast Asia, or India, and eventually made their way to Europe around 7,000 years ago.

  • The research has largely been speculative, however, and has gone relatively unchallenged.

By analyzing chicken remains found at more than 600 sites in 89 countries, the new study shows previous research about the domestication of chickens is wrong, finding the process was already well underway by around 1500 BC in the Southeast Asia peninsula.

  • The new study suggests chickens were then transported across Asia and eventually throughout the Mediterranean along routes used by early Greek, Etruscan, and Phoenician maritime traders.

During the Iron Age, the researchers found chickens were largely venerated and not treated as food, finding several chicken skeletons buried alone and unbothered, and many buried with people like pets.

  • The Roman Empire then helped popularize chickens and their eggs as food.

  • In Britain, chickens weren’t regularly consumed until the third century AD.

How it started:

The study found the “driving force” behind chicken domestication was the arrival of dry rice farming in southeast Asia, where their wild ancestor, the red jungle fowl, lived.

The researchers say the dry rice farming “acted as a magnet” for wild jungle fowl, drawing them down from the trees and kickstarting a closer relationship with humans.

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