𝑫𝒊𝒅 𝒚𝒐𝒖 𝒌𝒏𝒐𝒘?
𝐂𝐡𝐢𝐜𝐤𝐞𝐧𝐬 𝐜𝐚𝐦𝐞 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐒𝐨𝐮𝐭𝐡-𝐄𝐚𝐬𝐭 𝐀𝐬𝐢𝐚
Whether it is as a specialized source of protein or the centerpiece of a complicated dish, chicken is present in the diets of many. Chicken has become so widespread that it has permeated language, cultural, geological, and even economic barriers. But before the bird crossed paved roads, it first crossed seas..
It had long been thought that the modern domesticated chicken is descended from the Red Junglefowl (𝐺𝑎𝑙𝑙𝑢𝑠 𝑔𝑎𝑙𝑙𝑢𝑠), even before genetic studies. The Red Junglefowl is native to what is now Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and neighboring places. However, the archipelagic nature of South-East Asia meant that the domestication of the said bird occurred independently from each other, with some groups interbreeding the domesticated stock with other types of junglefowl.
Prehistoric trading, migration, and cultural mingling introduced the domesticated junglefowl to the rest of Asia, with the chicken even going as far as the Middle East, Western Europe, and some parts of Africa.
As the Austronesian peoples of Island South-East Asia have a predominantly maritime culture, seafaring and migration also played a part in the spread of the animal. The Red Junglefowl is not migratory. Like many jungle birds, it also is not a good swimmer. As such, the bird was brought over the seas by migrating Austronesian in waves, settling to the East, South, and West of South-East Asia. With them, the bird was brought to as far as the islands of Hawai’i, New Zealand, and Madagascar.
It comes as a surprise, then, that chickens were introduced to South-America long before the Europeans arrived. European contact with the two American continents was only established in the 1490s. With the global spread of colonialism, products were passed all over the globe and cultivated in many places where they were not native. From the potato to the coconut, many domesticated plants and animals were brought to and from the American continent. And that included chicken.
However, in the same way that South Americans introduced the potato to the seafaring Polynesians, the seafarers also gave away the chicken in trade. The earliest radiocarbon dating for chicken bones excavated in South America date to as far back as the 1300s, almost 200 years before Colombus arrived in the Americas!
Nowadays, chicken is prevalent in almost every cuisine and culture in the world. The bird is relatively easy to keep and take care of, and their consumption is not banned or regulated by some religions. While the chicken may have indeed come from South-East Asia, it is now a property of the whole world.
Storey AA, Athens JS, Bryant D, Carson M, Emery K, et al. (2012) Investigating the Global Dispersal of Chickens in Prehistory Using Ancient Mitochondrial DNA Signatures. PLOS ONE 7(7): e39171. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0039171
Hata, A., Nunome, M., Suwanasopee, T. et al. Origin and evolutionary history of domestic chickens inferred from a large population study of Thai red junglefowl and indigenous chickens. Sci Rep 11, 2035 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-81589-7
Storey, A. A., Ramírez, J. M., Quiroz, D., Burley, D. V., Addison, D. J., Walter, R., Anderson, A. J., Hunt, T. L., Athens, J. S., Huynen, L., & Matisoo-Smith, E. A. (2007). Radiocarbon and DNA evidence for a pre-Columbian introduction of Polynesian chickens to Chile. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104(25), 10335–10339. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0703993104