Research reveals the origins of chooks

August 6, 2008
Research reveals the origins of chooks
Dr Ulm

(PhysOrg.com) -- The question of whether the egg or the chicken came first may not have been solved, but University of Queensland research is helping find how the humble chook moved around the world.

Archaeologist Dr Sean Ulm, from UQ's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit, worked with colleagues in Kenya, China, Chile, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Australia to explore the chicken genome to help understand the spread of chickens and people across the globe.

In a paper recently published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team challenged claims for the presence of chickens in South America before Christopher Columbus's arrival in the 15th Century.

Dr Ulm said it was known European chickens were introduced into the American continents by the Spanish after their arrival in the 15th Century, but there was ongoing debate about the presence of pre-Columbian chickens in South America.

"This is a crucial issue for archaeology, because if chickens were in South America before the Spanish arrived it means people must have brought them there, across the breadth of the Pacific Ocean," Dr Ulm said.

"We know there was at least some contact between pre-European Polynesians and Americans because the South American sweet potato occurs in Polynesia and the bottle gourd from Asia, and ultimately Africa, occurs in South America.

"However, to date there has been no conclusive archaeological evidence for the presence of Polynesians in South America, making recent claims for presence of pre-Columbian chickens in South America a key issue."

The team generated partial mitochondrial DNA sequences from native Chilean chickens and compared them with a database of domestic chicken sequences from across the globe. The modern Chilean sequences were found to cluster closely with European, Indian subcontinental and South East Asian chickens, indicating a European genetic origin.

Dr Ulm, a specialist on the impact of marine influences on radiocarbon dating, said the study also demonstrated if the chickens had even a small proportion of seafood in their diet, the dates for the Chilean chicken bones needed to be corrected to place them in the Columbian era.

"The study found no support for previous claims for a Polynesian introduction of chickens to South America," he said.

"This does not mean that Polynesians and people in the Americas did not have contact in the past, just that the current archaeological evidence does not suggest that chickens were part of the package."

The study found chicken sequences from two archaeological sites on Easter Island group with sequences from Indonesia, Japan, and Philippines and may represent a genetic signature of an early Polynesian colonisation of the Pacific, opening up new avenues for research for archaeologists in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Provided by University of Queensland

Explore further: Scientists announce top 10 new species for 2015

Related Stories

Scientists announce top 10 new species for 2015

May 21, 2015

A cartwheeling spider, a bird-like dinosaur and a fish that wriggles around on the sea floor to create a circular nesting site are among the species identified by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) ...

Chicken bones tell true story of Pacific migration

March 17, 2014

(Phys.org) —Did the Polynesians beat Columbus to South America? Not according to the tale of migration uncovered by analysis of ancient DNA from chicken bones recovered in archaeological digs across the Pacific.

A revealing new look at the secretive black tinamou

April 9, 2015

After decades in ornithological obscurity, one of the world's least-known birds is finally coming to light thanks to the persistence of a small group of researchers. Pablo Negret, Oscar Garzón, Pablo Stevenson, and Oscar ...

International team maps 'big bang' of bird evolution

December 11, 2014

The genomes of modern birds tell a story of how they emerged and evolved after the mass extinction that wiped out dinosaurs and almost everything else 66 million years ago. That story is now coming to light, thanks to an ...

From hurricanes to drought, LatAm's volatile climate

November 21, 2014

Sixteen years ago, Teodoro Acuna Zavala lost nearly everything when Hurricane Mitch ravaged his fields, pouring 10 days of torrential rains on Central America and killing more than 9,000 people.

Recommended for you

French teen finds 560,000 year-old tooth (Update)

July 28, 2015

A 16-year-old French volunteer archaeologist has found an adult tooth dating back around 560,000 years in southwestern France, in what researchers hailed as a "major discovery" Tuesday.

Oldest known Koran text fragments discovered

July 23, 2015

Two pages of text written on parchment that are believed to be sections of the Koran (Chapters 18 and 20) have been discovered by a PhD student in a British university library and are believed to be the oldest ever found. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.