All chickens descend from south east Asia

Anneli Knight

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All chickens descend from south east Asia, new archaeological research has found, with scientists dubbing these common ancestors the "great, great grandmothers of the chicken world".


New archaeological research has found that all chickens descend from south east Asia Photo: ALAMY

The team of researchers from the University of New England (Armidale, Australia) studied the ancient DNA – known as mitochondrial DNA – preserved within 48 archaeological chicken bones and found the same DNA signature present in bones from Europe, Thailand, the Pacific, Chile, the Dominican Republic and Spanish colonial sites in Florida.

Project researcher Dr Alison Storey says chickens have been domesticated for at least 5400 years and it has been difficult to determine the ancient origin and dispersal of chickens because of the way successive civilisations carried the domesticated poultry with them wherever they went.

"What we found is that one of the sequences in the different chicken bones was very similar over a wide geographic area. This tells us that the chickens that we found in archaeological sites all over the world shared an ancient ancestor who was domesticated somewhere in southeast Asia a long time ago," Dr Storey told the ABC.

"All of our domestic chickens are descended from a few hens that I like to think of as the 'great, great grandmothers' of the chicken world," she says.

The report, published in the journal PLos ONE, has implications for the world of human movement as much as it does for the DNA of poultry. The report says: "Understanding when chickens were transported out of domestication centres and the directions in which they were moved provides information about prehistoric migration, trade routes, and cross cultural diffusion."

The report says the global distribution of chickens provides a unique example as the dispersion is largely attributable to humans because the fowls do not migrate, cannot fly over long distances and are not equipped for swimming.

The findings are published in the journal PLoS One.