Why did chickens cross the globe?

Authors: Maltby, M.

Start date: 6 September 2014

Chickens are now the world’s most widespread and abundant domestic animal. In Britain alone we eat 2.2 million chickens per day and they provide nearly half the meat we eat annually. We also consume 11.5 billion eggs in the UK every year. This is a remarkable transformation in our relationship with a species that was first domesticated in Asia only around 6,000 years ago. However, we only have a patchy knowledge of when, how and why domestic chickens spread across the world. This is surprising given the cultural significance of these exotic birds, not only as providers of meat, eggs, manure and feathers, but also in their association with sport, ritual, magic and medicine in many societies.

Using examples drawn mainly from Britain, this paper will discuss how multi-disciplinary research (including archaeology, anthropology, history, art, genetics and stable isotope analysis) is being used to investigate the history of chickens in Europe. From this research we can deepen our understanding of how these birds have impacted upon human lives, and see how changes in our exploitation of chickens have changed chickens themselves.

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