The Fowl Mystery

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Scientists recently pinpointed where domestic chickens come from, in a study that challenges previous theories about the beginnings of fowl domestication, South China Morning Post reported.

The origins of chicken domestication remain shrouded in mystery and two theories suggest that the flightless bird was first domesticated either on the Indian subcontinent or in northern China.

But a research team analyzed more than 600 archaeological sites from 89 countries and determined that fowl taming occurred in central Thailand thousands of years ago. Researchers said they realized that the first unambiguous chicken bones – dating back 3,500 years – were those found at the Thai village of Ban Non Wat, known for its archaeological sites from the Neolithic era to the Iron Age.

Their findings suggest that the ancient inhabitants of the area began the practice of domesticating fowl on the subspecies of Red junglefowl. The team was able to track the transition from Red junglefowl to chickens using gene flow analysis. Still, they noted it is difficult to determine exactly when the birds became domesticated farm animals.

Meanwhile, what led to this domestication was the cultivation of rice, which provided the conditions that allowed the birds to thrive in numbers and integrate with humans. Researchers added that the birds didn’t serve only as food but could also act as pest control to protect the rice farms.

The domesticated subspecies eventually started to spread “into and beyond” other junglefowl species, later translocating from Thailand to the rest of Southeast Asia, China, South Asia and Mesopotamia about 3,000 years ago.

As the birds migrated west, the process accelerated, with the first chickens arriving in southern Europe 2,800 years ago.

“In retrospect, the domestication of the chicken proved very useful for cultural developments throughout the wider region, as domestic flocks could easily be taken on sea voyages, either as provisions or, ultimately, to raise chickens in newly occupied areas,” co-author Joris Peters told Live Science.

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