31 December 2007

Why did the chicken cross the ocean?

Argument about the origins and date of introduction of the domestic fowl or chicken (Gallus gallus) to the Americas has raged for over 30 years. Despite claims that it might be native to the region, it has never been recovered or reported from paleontological, Paleo-Indian, or, until now, prehistoric archaeological contexts in the Americas. A Portuguese or Spanish introduction to the east coast of South America around AD 1500 has been suggested, but when Pizarro reached Peru in 1532, he found that chickens were already an integral part of Incan economy and culture, suggesting at least some history of chickens in the region. Consequently, there have been numerous suggestions of a pre-European chicken introduction to the west coast of South America, in which both Asian and Polynesian contacts have been proposed. Here, we provide the first unequivocal evidence for a pre-European introduction of chickens to South America and indicate, through ancient DNA evidence, that the likely source of that introduction was Polynesia. This evidence has implications for debates about ancient Polynesian voyaging capabilities as well as those addressing prehistoric population interactions and exchange. This study also presents the first published ancient DNA sequences for chickens providing valuable data for researchers concerned with the loss of genetic variation in modern domestic stocks.
Full text of this manuscript at the NIH website: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1965514
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