How the chicken crossed the Red Sea thousand years ago

Mezber Locator Map. Credit: International Journal of Osteoarchaeology.

In a fascinating study conducted by Washington University in St. Louis, researchers have discovered some of the oldest physical evidence of domesticated chickens in Africa.

By analyzing chicken bones with tooth marks, dating back thousands of years, the study sheds new light on the introduction of chickens to the continent.

These findings offer valuable insights into ancient agricultural practices and trade routes that brought chickens to Africa and eventually spread them worldwide. Let’s explore this exciting research in simpler terms.

Chickens we know today originated from a wild ancestor called the red junglefowl, found in northern India, southern China, and Southeast Asia.

They were first domesticated around 6,000-8,000 years ago. The journey of how chickens made their way to Africa remained a mystery until now.

Previous studies suggested that chickens were introduced to Africa through North Africa, Egypt, and the Nile Valley around 2,500 years ago.

However, this new research, based on radiocarbon dating of chicken bones found in Ethiopia, pushes the timeline back by hundreds of years.

The study suggests that the earliest introductions of chickens to Africa may have occurred through trade routes on the continent’s eastern coast.

Linguistic studies also indicate multiple introductions of chickens through different routes, such as from North Africa through the Sahara to West Africa and from the East African coast to Central Africa.

Finding chicken remains at archaeological sites is rare because their wild relatives are abundant in Africa. Researchers carefully analyzed bones from an ancient farming community in northern Ethiopia called Mezber.

These bones were recovered from kitchen and living areas, providing important insights into the daily lives of people in ancient times.

The study of ancient animal introductions tells us how people migrated and exchanged domestic animals worldwide.

Interestingly, not all introductions were successful, as different regions posed unique challenges for new species. Scholars have also studied the genetic diversity of modern-day African village chickens, revealing a rich tapestry of ancient heritage.

The discovery of ancient chicken bones in Africa has given us a glimpse into the fascinating history of how these domesticated birds spread across the continent. Through the analysis of bones and linguistic studies, researchers are uncovering the intricate trade routes and connections that shaped our world.

This research highlights the importance of studying the movement of domestic animals throughout history and its impact on our understanding of ancient civilizations.

Citation: Woldekiros HS, D’Andrea AC. (2016). Early Evidence for Domestic Chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) in the Horn of Africa. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, published online. DOI: 10.1002/oa.2540.