GLOBAL - The discarded bone of a chicken leg, still etched with teeth marks from a dinner thousands of years ago, provides some of the oldest known physical evidence for the introduction of domesticated chickens to the continent of Africa, research from Washington University in St. Louis has confirmed.
Based on radiocarbon dating of about 30 chicken bones unearthed at the site of an ancient farming village in present-day Ethiopia, the findings shed new light on how domesticated chickens crossed ancient roads - and seas - to reach farms and plates in Africa and, eventually, every other corner of the globe.
"Our study provides the earliest directly dated evidence for the presence of chickens in Africa and points to the significance of Red Sea and East African trade routes in the introduction of the chicken," said Helina Woldekiros, lead author and a postdoctoral anthropology researcher in Arts & Sciences at Washington University.
The main wild ancestor of today's chickens, the red junglefowl Gallus gallus (pictured above) is endemic to sub-Himalayan northern India, southern China and Southeast Asia, where chickens were first domesticated 6,000-8,000 years ago. Now nearly ubiquitous around the world, the offspring of these first-domesticated chickens are providing modern researchers with valuable clues to ancient agricultural and trade contacts.
The arrival of chickens in Africa and the routes by which they both entered and dispersed across the continent are not well known, but previous research suggested chickens were introduced to Africa through North Africa, Egypt and the Nile Valley about 2,500 years ago.
This study, published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, pushes that date back by hundreds of years.
Co-authored by Catherine D'Andrea, professor of archaeology at Simon Fraser University in Canada, the research also suggests that the earliest introductions may have come from trade routes on the continent's eastern coast.
"It is likely that people brought chickens to Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa repeatedly over long period of time: over 1,000 years," Woldekiros said. "Our archaeological findings help to explain the genetic diversity of modern Africans chickens resulting from the introduction of diverse chicken lineages coming from early Arabian and South Asian context and later Swahili networks."
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