By Ellie Zolfagharifard For Dailymail.com
An ancient city in Israel may have been the first to eat chicken.
The city of Maresha, which is now an archaeological site, was part of a major trade route in the Hellenistic period from 400 to 200 BCE. Researchers recently dug up a collection of more than 1,000, well–preserved chicken bones in the region, which appeared to have knife marks from butchering.
The discovery of chicken bones dating back around 2200-2400 year ago isn’t surprising in itself. There is evidence humans kept chickens for thousands of years. But according to a report in NPR, many of these older sites only had a few chicken bones, leading researchers to suspect they were used for ceremonies, or during cockfighting contests. This, however, wasn’t the case in Maresha, where twice as many bones from female birds were found.
The discovery of female chicken bones suggests they were raised for meat rather than for cock-fighting, according to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Lee Perry-Gal, a doctoral student in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Haifa told NPR there may be a number of reasons why the residents of Maresha decided to eat chicken. The dry Mediterranean climate may have caused the chickens to evolve to become meatier, and more attractive as a food source, researchers speculate.
‘From this point on, we see chicken everywhere in Europe,’ Perry-Gal said. ‘We see a bigger and bigger percent of chicken. It’s like a new cellphone. We see it everywhere.’ While Maresha may have been the first to eat chicken, China was the first to domesticate the bird.
Last year, researchers claimed to have found the earliest evidence for chicken domestication in an area around the Yellow River in northern China. They obtained DNA from 10,500 year old fossilized bones that confirmed they belonged to the same lineage as modern domestic chickens. The results show that the animals, found buried beneath a peat bog in China’s Xushiui County, Hebei, are the oldest examples of domesticated chicken by several thousand years and traces of their genomes are still found in the birds sold in supermarkets today.
It is thought that these birds spread out around Asia but later were bred with other ancient species of fowl to produce the modern domesticated birds that appear on our supermarket shelves today. “Our analyses also suggest that northern China represents one region of the earliest chicken domestication. While Maresha may have been the first to eat chicken, China was the first to domesticate the bird,” said Perry-Gal.