The meat of these birds is one of the most popular products in the world, and it seems to us that they have always lived next to man. Researchers from the Universities of Exeter, Oxford and Cardiff found out when our ancestors domesticated chickens and how they did it.
Charles Darwinbelieved that these birds were descended from the banki jungle chicken — bright tropical bird of the pheasant family. The point is that they are very similar. However, until recently, this has been difficult to prove. Only in 2020, a study of the genomes of 863 live chickens confirmed that the jungle subspecies Gallus gallus spaedicus was their distant ancestor. Then scientists suggested that domestication took place about 10 thousand years ago.
Now an international team of researchers have continued this work. They conducted radiocarbon dating of chicken remains found in more than 600 locations in 89 countries around the world. The age of the bones was correlated with those archaeological layers where they were found: this way it became clear what people were doing at that time, what culture it was and t. p.
It turned out that the oldest chicken bones date back to 1650-1250 BC. This bird lived in the territory of modern Thailand. In those days, rice was already grown there, and scientists suggest that the seeds of this crop began to attract wild birds that nested in the thickets at the edge of the fields. And there they got out of the jungle, where they had to dwell trees in order not to become easy prey for predators.
Thus, about 3500 years ago, ancient people seduced the first chickens with rice, forcing them to descend from the trees to the ground. Gradually, they got used to humans and turned into domestic birds. Moreover, for quite a long time, chickens were not eaten, but were perceived as pets or even, perhaps, sacred creatures. This is evidenced by the fact that the earliest chicken remains (both in Asia and in Europe) were found in burials either together with people, or in special graves, apparently made especially for them.
And not always found remains indicated that the birds were butchered. Perhaps the ancient people valued them as exotic — for feathering, coloring or loud crying in the first hours of the morning. The data show that they began to be eaten approximately 500 years after they were brought to a new place. “This is the first time that radiocarbon dating has been used on such a scale to determine the importance of chickens in early societies,” says one of study authors, archaeologist Julia Best of Cardiff University.
Scientists traced the further “path” chicken remains — through Asia to the Middle East and to Africa. So they noticed a connection between the spread of growing rice, millet and other cereals and the appearance of chickens in these regions. About 3000 years ago, these birds appeared in northern China and India, about 2800 years ago — in Middle East and Northeast Africa. Then they were brought to Europe. But chicken and eggs became popular as food only during the Roman Empire.
It took a thousand years for these birds to spread north — to Britain, Scandinavia and Iceland. According to Julia Best, it took a long time for subtropical birds to get used to the cold climate.
Despite the fact that the chicken was tamed by man later than other animals, today it is the most common domesticated species on the planet. There are 80 billion chickens — — thus, they outnumber humanity by a 10 to 1 ratio.
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