Monday, July 15, 2024

How was chicken domesticated, and where did it spread?

Until today, the belief is that chickens have not been regarded as a resource to be consumed but as a respected animal throughout European history. It’s been known that many chickens were buried in graves along with humans; even so, roosters shared graves with men and chickens with women. Ok, so how the chicken was domesticated? Excavations performed in a few places showed that chickens and people lived a life altogether.

How was chicken domesticated, and how did it spread throughout the world?

Most recent research revealed that our relationship with chickens had a sharp turn in the last 3500 years, shedding light on taming as it spread from Asia to the West. Past research displayed the chicken as an “exotic” figure, which was respected for a long time. Additionally, there were accepted ideas that chickens were domesticated in China, India, and Southeast Asia around 10,000 years ago, and the same practice appeared in Europe around 7,000 years ago.

According to research by academics from Exeter, Munich, Cardiff, Oxford, Bournemouth, and Toulouse universities and institutes in Germany, France, and Argentina, chicken domestication was still underway in Southeast Asia 3,000 years ago.

Do chickens come from the dinosaur family?

Like all birds, chickens are grandchildren of dinosaurs and their closest living relatives! That is why, even though not technically a dinosaur, chickens share the ancestry and DNA of the mighty reptiles of ancient times.

A study performed by one of the most respected universities, Harvard, showed that birds are the closest relatives of dinosaurs and include 21 modern species. At the same time, the molecular analysis of a sample of 68 million years of Tyrannosaurus Rex (T-Rex) protein corroborates that chickens, ostriches, and alligators (on a smaller scale) have a shared ancestor.

Were chickens always food?

Looking primarily at chickens’ journey in Europe, the acceptance of chickens as food doesn’t go too far. This process was going on in the Southeast Asian peninsula around 1,500 BC. Studies show that chickens first travelled to Asia and then to the Mediterranean by the sea routes used by early-period Greek and Phonecian sea traders. The Roman Empire played its part in this journey and helped chicken eggs become a popular food source.

For instance, chickens were constantly consumed in cities and military areas until the third century in Britain. Additionally, research by Oxford University revealed the primary reason for taming chickens: not to consume them as a food source but to use them in rituals and ceremonies.

An international team of scientists reinvestigated chicken remnants in 89 countries, covering over 600 regions. The research deeply analysed the societies and skeletons representing cultures, excavation sites, and ancient records associated with the location of the chicken remnants. As a result of the study, the oldest bones of a domesticated chicken were located in the centre of Thailand, the neolithic Ban Non-Wat, dating back to 1,650-1,250 BC. Ban Non-Wat is a famous excavation site and a historical spot in northwestern Thailand.

The results also debunked the believed date the chickens emerged in Europe, revealing that they only existed in 8,000 BC. On the contrary, it likely took another 1,000 years for chickens to reach Britania, Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia and Iceland after reaching the Mediterranean.

One of the researchers, Dr Julia Best from Cardiff University, explains the results: “Radiocarbon scaling is used for the first time to determine the importance of chickens in early societies. The results show us that the proposed early samples must be directly dated, and the method allows us to do so. This is the clearest picture of our relationship with chickens throughout history.”

While the chicken industry has reached a debatable point today, it is interesting that the history of chicken taming has evolved recently, triggering the necessity of following related studies with care.


University of Exeter. (2022, June 6). New evidence about when, where, and how chickens were domesticated. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 5, 2022 from

Main photo: Oleksandr P/Pexels

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