HomeTop StoriesWhy chickens probably crossed the Silk Road

Why chickens probably crossed the Silk Road

The mystery of what came first, the chicken or the egg is generally dissolved–it was the egg. However, some questions remain about how well distributed chickens were in the ancient world, as some wild bird bones may have been misidentified as domesticated chicken bones.

Using new technology, a recent analysis of eggshell fragments from Central Asia suggests that chicken breeding is possible production of eggs was probably common in the region from about 400 BC. Until 1000 AD. The domestic chicken’s ability to lay eggs outside the traditional breeding season may have been the main cause of these birds’ spread across Eurasia and northeastern Africa. The findings are described in a study published April 2 in the journal Nature communication and helps explain how they became such a crucial economic and agricultural resource.

a square fragment of an eggshell from an archaeological dig

An eggshell fragment from the Bash Tepa site, which represents one of the earliest pieces of evidence for chickens on the Silk Road CREDIT: Robert Spengler

An international team of archaeologists, historians and biomolecular scientists has studied eggshell fragments 12 different archaeological sites in Central Asia which spans approximately 1500 years. They were probably spread along the central corridor of the old Silk Road, an extensive Eurasian trade network stretching from present-day China to the Mediterranean Sea. The network was used from the second century BC to the mid-15th century and facilitated religious, cultural, economic and political interactions between Asian and European countries.

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[Related: Humans have been eating hazelnuts for at least 6,000 years.]

To identify the source of the egg fragments, they used a biomolecular analysis method called ZooMS. It can identify a particular species from animal remains, including bones, skin and shells. ZooMS also relies on protein signals instead of DNA, making it a faster and more cost-effective option than genetic analysis, according to the team.

“This study shows the potential of ZooMS to shed light on past human-animal interactions,” said Carli Peters, co-author and archaeologist from the Max Planck Institute for Geoanthropology in Germany, said in a statement.

The technique identified the shell fragments as pieces of a chicken egg, which is an important finding. The team believes that the amount of chicken eggshells present in the sediment layers at each archaeological site means that the birds must have laid eggs more frequently than their wild ancestor. red jungle fowl. These colorful tropical birds are still around found throughout Southeast Asia and parts of South Asiaand nests only once a year, laying about six eggs per clutch. Domesticated chickens lay eggs much more often, and some chickens can do so lay one egg per dayso ancient peoples must have taken advantage of this egg-laying ability, which was not tied to a specific season.

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The abundance of eggshells suggests that the birds laid eggs out of season. Having access to eggs that were not dependent on a particular season probably made the domesticated chicken a particularly useful animal.

[Related: Finally, a smart home for chickens.]

“This is the earliest evidence for the loss of seasonal egg laying identified to date in the archaeological record,” wrote co-author and paleoecologist and paleoeconomist Robert Spengler of the Max Planck Institute for Geoanthropology. said in a statement. “This is an important clue to better understanding the mutualistic relationships between humans and animals that led to domestication.”

The study suggests that the domesticated chicken’s ability to lay multiple eggs, at least in Central Asia, made it the important agricultural species it is today. The team hopes that this work demonstrates how the use of new cost-effective analytical methods such as ZooMS and interdisciplinary collaboration can be used to address long-standing questions about our past.

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