By this point in time, you’re more than aware what a chicken is, what it’s used for, and roughly where it comes from. You’ve also no doubt heard the debate about whether the chicken really came first of if it was in fact the egg. Well, we’re not talking about that today. Instead, we’re taking a look back to when chickens were first discovered and domesticated. Let’s look at chickens through history.
As with so many other animal species, we don’t know the precise time and place of the appearance of chickens as we popularly know them, but evidence suggests that an early form of the domesticated chicken, called a “manuk” (the word for domesticated), thousands of years ago in Southeast Asia. By the time the Lapita culture had formed between 1350 and 750 BCE, chickens were common domesticated animals along with dogs and pigs. It’s not until the 7th century BCE that we see any pictures of chickens appearing on pottery.
With the passing of time, the uses of chickens and its origins began to evolve here and there. The poet Cratinus called chickens “the Persian alarm” in the middle of the 5th century BCE, whereas Aristophanes’s comedy The Birds from 414 BCE calls them “the Median bird,” suggesting a definite introduction from the East (which falls in line with the manuk of Southeast Asia).
By the time the Romans were enamored with chickens, they were being used as oracles to predict the future, or at the very least give guidance. Yes, there was once a time when chickens were considered good options for assistance with important life choices. Everything was based on omens, so for instance a hen appearing from the left meant something very good whereas a chicken that flees its cage when fed is considered very bad.
The Romans would be the big hitters in chicken history for some time, even making some laws around them such as forbidding eating fattened chickens. Why exactly? Well that doesn’t seem to be very clear, especially since it didn’t get much of a foothold. People just though chickens were too delicious and actually ate pretty much every bit they could including the organs and even the pygostyle, the part of the tail where the feathers connect.
A Roman author named Columella took it upon himself to write up the eight book in his treatise on agriculture exclusively on chickens, specifically how best to raise them. He suggests the best size for a flock is 200 and even mentions a handful of breeds by name, thus noting some of the oldest breeds ever recorded (those being the Tanagrian, Rhodic, Chalkidic and Median breeds).
Leaving Rome, chickens were brought to Easter Island in the 12th century AD and served as the only domestic animal on said island for quite some time, other than perhaps the Polynesian Rat. The chickens that lived here were housed in stone coops, as opposed to the wooden coops that the Romans used and that we typically use to this day.
Chickens have come a long way between then and now. Currently, we have dozens of breeds and variations and use them for food, shows, and just company. Wonder what the future holds for the egg-laying fowl?
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