Where do chickens come from?

Is that a trick question, reader Hanna? Because I’ve been down that road before. The whole chicken-egg thing only ends in headache and frustration. But if you want to know where — geographically — chickens come from, the answer is Thailand (or thereabouts). That’s where they were originally domesticated, sometime around 7500 BC.

Chickens are descended from junglefowl, medium-sized ground-dwelling creatures related to pheasants, which inhabit open spots in jungles and forest edges in southeast Asia. That’s about as specific as I can get without inciting argument. For chickens, it turns out, are a highly contentious subject. Which is funny, because for hundreds of years chickens were virtually ignored by the historical/anthropological set. Just the walking, clucking background noise of human civilization they thought. It’s been only very lately, as in the last fifty years or so, that the chicken has become the focus of serious inquiry among scientists and other PhD. types.

And do they ever fight about it. Let’s just start with the genetics. For years it was claimed that chickens were descended from a single species of junglefowl, specifically Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus). This species so closely resembles the domestic chicken that we all know that it’s actually classified as the very same species (Gallus galls domestics). Charles Darwin thought they were one and the same bird. Yet a little known contemporary of Darwin’s, a British church rector by the name of Edmund Saul Dixon, disagreed. Enthusiastic about poultry to an almost disturbing degree, Dixon believed that the modern chicken was the product of multiple antecedents. And indeed modern genetics validates his hypothesis. Gallus galls domestics does indeed seem to be a mix of Red Junglefowl and others including Grey Junglefowl, Java Junglefowl and possibly others. Just goes to show what one man with a nutty obsession can accomplish. (!)

But of course for every study there is and equal and opposite counter-study, at least in the world of trendy subjects. By which I mean that data that supports Darwin’s original hypothesis has also been advanced in recent years. We’ll run into a fair amount of this argument and counter-argument stuff as we go along, and of course as usual I won’t be shy about introducing my own cockeyed opinions and speculations into the mix. But that’s what science is all about, no? It is on this blog, at any rate.

2 thoughts on “Where do chickens come from?”

  1. “Just goes to show what one man with a nutty obsession can accomplish.”

    still some hope for you then Joe mate 😉

    keep up the good work!

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