Understanding Humanity's Infatuation With Chickens
September 18, 2013

Understanding Humanity’s Infatuation With Chickens

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

There’s been quite a bit of research performed lately about the origins of birds. Adding to the fray is a study from Bournemouth University which aims to uncover the origin of chickens and their relationships with humans. For millennia we’ve been keeping these flightless birds near us, using them for work, for sport, for food, for religion, etc.

The Bournemouth University researchers, as well as those from the Universities of Durham, Nottingham, Leicester, Roehampton and York, want to understand where these chickens came from, how they spread so wildly across Europe and at what point humankind looked at these fowl and decided to start eating their eggs. Moreover, the researchers plan to uncover the origins of chicken bones in religious ceremonies and the cultural significance of cockfighting. When completed, the research will have scanned the history of chickens and humans over the past 8,000 years. The research will begin, appropriately, in January 2014, otherwise known as the Year of the Chicken.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to work with a team of high international esteem drawn from a wide range of disciplines that includes genetics, cultural anthropology, history and archaeological science,” said Dr. Mark Maltby with the University of Bournemouth in a statement. The researchers will also borrow some of the expertise of local poultry breeders and farmers as well as other interested members of the public.

“We are united by our mutual research interests in how chickens and people have interacted in the past and the present,” said Dr. Maltby.

When they set out to start this research, the scientists say they’ll start by digging into archeological records to map out the evolution of the bird and how it made its way from its original home in Southeast Asia to Europe and elsewhere. It’s already known that the earliest ancestors of the chicken were wild jungle fowl, but it’s not yet clear when humans began not only hunting these birds for food, but domesticating them and eating their eggs.

When completed, the researchers will then use this research as the foundation of another future project called “The Chicken Trail.” Museums and other venues around the UK will host these series of exhibitions to educate the general public about the important role chickens have played in our history and culture. What’s more, the researchers also say they’ll share some of their research with local butchers who will then post this information in their shops to educate those coming in to buy their evening dinner.

They’re calling their research project “Cultural and Scientific Perceptions of Human-Chicken Interactions” and have been given a large grant — about $3 million (US) — from the Arts and Humanities and Research Council to go forward. This grant was awarded to them under the Science and Culture Awards Large Grants call.

Though the researchers want to understand where the relationship between humans and yard birds began, this isn’t the only time chickens have been honored by human actions.

In 2005 a group called United Poultry Concerns first recognized “International Respect for Chickens Day.” Poultry fans and activists celebrate this day to recognize the humble chicken as well as protest inhumane treatment of the bird, such as cockfighting and experimental research. The entire month of May, in fact, has been set aside as International Respect for Chickens Month, where protectors of these animals raise awareness and celebrate the bird which has kept humans company for thousands of years.