Chickens crossed the Pacific from Southeast Asia, but didn’t reach South America

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A study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences unravels the origins of chickens and how they dispersed across the Pacific.

Using ancient DNA to study the origins and dispersal of ancestral Polynesian chickens across the Pacific
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science
doi: 10.1073/pnas.1320412111

Chickens tell tale of human migration across Pacific
The Conversation, 18 March 2014

Chicken bones tell true story of Pacific migration
Heritage Daily, 17 March 2014
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Chickens prove Polynesians crossed Pacific

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05 June 2007 (News in Science, National Geographic) – Why did the Chicken cross the pacific? Because the Polynesians brought them there, it seems. A 600-year-old chicken bone from Chile is found to be carrying a rare mutation that can be traced to the Polynesian islands, thus strengthening the idea that the Polynesian islanders were able to traverse the pacific, and overturning the assumption that chickens were imported into the New World by Columbus.

Chickens originated from Southeast Asia, and could have been brought to the Polynesian islands from the Austronesian expansion and migration from between 5,000 and 2,500 BC. Originating from Taiwan, the expansion travelled down to Philippines, Borneo and the Moluccas; some went westwards towards Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula while others headed eastward towards Polynesia by 500 AD.

The tracing of chickens to a Polynesian origin also refutes one of the assertions in Gavin Menzies’ 1421 thesis, who argued that the existence of chickens in South America before Columbus was due to the fact that the Chinese Ming fleets were there first!

Polynesians made first takeaway chicken

A chicken bone found in Chile provides solid evidence to settle a debate over whether Polynesians travelling on rafts visited South America thousands of years ago, or vice versa, researchers say.

The DNA in the bone carries a rare mutation that links it to chickens in Tonga and Samoa.

And radiocarbon dating shows the bone is around 600 years old, meaning it predates the arrival of the Spanish in South America.

Polynesians – And Their Chickens – Arrived in Americas Before Columbus

The greatest testament we have today to the sailing abilities of the ancient Polynesians may be found in a few ancient chicken bones, a new study reveals.

The bones, which scientists recently dug up from a site on the central coast of Chile, offer a startling conclusion: Polynesians beat Columbus to the Americas by probably a century or more, arriving at the latest in the early 1400s.

This means Polynesians not only colonized nearly every island in the South Pacific—making journeys over thousands of miles—but they also made the long hop all the way to the Americas.

The study may put an end to a raging debate about how chickens were introduced to the New World, the authors suggest.

The paper will be published very soon in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but in the meantime, you can read more about the implications of the chicken bone find in News in Science and the National Geographic.

Books about the Austronesian migration from Southeast Asia:
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Bioarchaeology of Southeast Asia (Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology) by M. Oxenham
Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago by P. Bellwood
Indo-Pacific Prehistory 1990. Proceedings of the 14th Congress Held at Yogyakarta. Vol 1 & 2. by P. Bellwood (Ed)
Man’s conquest of the Pacific: The prehistory of Southeast Asia and Oceania by P. Bellwood
The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia by N. Tarling (Ed.)