The history of chickens (Gallus domesticus) is a bit of a puzzle. They were first domesticated from a wild form called red junglefowl (Gallus gallus), a bird that still runs wild in most of southeast Asia, likely hybridized with the grey junglefowl (G. sonneratii. That occurred probably about 8,000 years ago. Recent research suggests there may have been multiple origins in distinct areas of South and Southeast Asia, including North and South China, Thailand, Burma and India.
Wild Chickens: The Red Junglefowl
Since the wild progenitor of chickens is still among us, comparisons of behavior and other changes that exist are available to us. Behaviorally, domesticated chickens are less active, have fewer social interactions, are less aggressive to would-be predators, and are less likely to go looking for foreign food sources than their wild ancestors. Other changes include increased adult body weight and simplified plumage; egg production starts earlier, is more frequent, and produces larger eggs.
Genetic studies suggest multiple origins of domestication. The first archaeological evidence to date is from China about 5400 BC, in geographically widespread sites such as Cishan (Heibei province, ca 5300 BC), Beixin (Shandong province, ca 5000 BC), and Xian (Shaanxi province, ca 4300 BC).
Domesticated chickens appear at Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley by about 2000 BC and, from there the chicken spread into Europe and Africa. The earliest firm evidence for chickens in east Africa are illustrations from several sites in New Kingdom Egypt. Chickens arrived in western African at Iron Age sites such as Jenne-Jeno in Mali, Kirikongo in Burkina Faso and Daboya in Ghana by the mid-first millennium AD.
History of Chickens in the Americas
It is believed that chickens were brought to the Polynesian islands from southeast Asia with the Lapita expansion, about 3300 years ago. While it was assumed that they had been brought to the Americas with the Spanish conquistadors, in fact pre-Columbian chicken has been identified at several sites throughout the Americas, most notably at the site of El Arenal-1 in Chile, ca 1350 AD.
This article is part of the About.com Guide to the History of Animal Domestication.
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