Today chickens and hens live almost everywhere. But where did they come from? Where and when were they domesticated by man, starting their journey around the world with us? Strange to say, being such common animals, but science still has little certainty about their origin. However, an international research consortium believes that it has solved the mystery once and for all, with two studies that identify Asia as the birthplace of domestic hens, and describe the events that led to the birth of one of the most common breeding animals. breeding of the Planet.
The two papers were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and in the journal Antiquity. And they reconstructed the history of domestic chickens by re-analyzing ancient chicken bone samples identified at more than 600 archaeological sites in 89 countries, and using radiocarbon dating to accurately verify the age of 23 of the oldest finds from Europe. from North Africa and the Middle East. In this way, the researchers believe they have unequivocally demonstrated the area and period of origin of domestic chickens, and the timing and path they followed during their introduction to the European continent.
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“This careful re-evaluation of the chickens first demonstrated how incorrect our understanding of their domestication was, in terms of time and geography,” he explains. Greger Larson, Oxford paleontologist who coordinated the study published in PNAS. “Even more exciting, probably, to be able to demonstrate how the arrival of dry rice farming has acted as a catalyst both for the domestication processes and for the global spread of these animals”.
Previously, the most accredited theory spoke of a relatively ancient domestication: 10 thousand years ago, in an area between China and the Indian subcontinent, and an introduction in Europe around 5000 BC. The new analyzes, however, point in the completely opposite direction: in fact, chickens emerged in South East Asia only around 1500 BC, in correspondence with the beginning of rice and millet cultivation. The two cereals represent a perfect food source for these animals, and their cultivation would have replaced the local jungles with cultivated fields, a perfect environment for the bankiva rooster (Gallus gallusthe wild ancestor of chickens), which may have attracted these animals to the vicinity of human communities.
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Many of the radiocarbon-dated finds are also more recent than previously thought, allowing researchers to reconstruct the arrival of chickens on the European continent. A process led by maritime trade on the Mediterranean, and started around 800 BC (the oldest finds are found in Italy, in the sites of two ancient Greek colonies), and then continued for over a millennium before the breeding of these animals also spread to the northern regions of the continent.
If in the Mediterranean areas the Roman Empire helped to spread the breeding and food consumption of eggs and chicken meat, among the populations of central and northern Europe these birds would seem to have been considered for centuries as curiosities and objects of veneration, before transform into one of the most popular farm animals on the planet.
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