How Chicken Conquered the World


How did the pestle and the white invade our plates? Where do the 80 billion chickens present in all parts of the planet come from? To what is due the extraordinary success of a species whose individuals alone weigh as much as all the birds in the world put together? It is to this delicate question that the in-depth article that has just been published by the PNAS. “We have revisited more than 600 archaeological sites in 89 countries based not only on the analysis of geological layers giving an approximate date of the bones found but by a direct analysis by carbon 14″, explains Ophélie Lebrasseur, researcher at the Center for Anthropobiology and Genomics at Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse and co-author of the article.

First of all, this work settles its account with a few poorly substantiated scientific assertions. It must be said that the subject is difficult. Interest in the remains of bird bones present on archaeological sites is relatively recent and there are therefore few exploitable elements. The dating by age of the geological layers where the relics are discovered (taphonomy) is uncertain and can lead to false interpretations on sites that have not been excavated finely. Furthermore, gallus gallus can easily be confused with cousins ​​of their Phasianidae family such as pheasants. Finally, the ancestor of our chickens, the golden rooster, comes from the forests of Thailand where archaeological sites are rare. Despite these obstacles, the authors are adamant. Thailand is indeed the country of origin of our Gallus gallus domesticus and among the species of the genus Gallus, Gallus spadiceus is, according to genetic analyses, the great ancestor. Exit, therefore, the works dating from 1988 claiming that the chicken comes from northern China and that its domestication dates back 8000 years. “It is much too cold there for this species and our analyzes show that there was confusion with pheasants”, denounces Ophelie Lebrasseur. Similarly, studies fixing origins in the Indian subcontinent are discarded because of hasty conclusions from single taphonomic examinations.

Skeletons found in Bronze Age tombs

The research team has identified the only three archaeological sites where carbon-14 dating leaves no doubt. The Neolithic site of Ban Non Wat thus covers a period from -1650 to -1250 BC, in a region of eastern Thailand where golden roosters of the species still live. gallus gallus and Gallus spadiceus. Several factors support this hypothesis. Many chicken bones were found near the houses. Then whole skeletal remains are present in graves alongside other domesticated animals like pigs and cattle from this Bronze Age. Two elements which plead for a strong proximity of the bird and the Man. Studies claiming that the golden rooster is found in India within the Harappan culture of the Indus basin between -2600 and -1900 BC are not confirmed by carbon dating and again an error of interpretation geological layers is highlighted.

The golden rooster is a forest species that also likes to frequent areas of regrowth of less dense trees whose soil was previously exploited by burning.

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