Holocene cultural history of Red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) and its domestic descendant in East Asia
Nearly three decades ago, zooarchaeologists postulated that chicken husbandry was practiced in Northern China by ∼8.0 ka calBP. Recently, ancient mitogenome analyses of galliform remains suggested that Red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) was already present in the Yellow River basin several millennia earlier, shortly after the onset of the Holocene. If these conclusions are correct, the origins of chicken domestication and husbandry in the region may have been spurred by agricultural innovations in the lower Yellow River basin including millet cultivation, pig husbandry, and dog breeding. In addition, the dispersal of poultry farming from East Asia to Asia Minor and Europe could therefore date to the Neolithic along ancient trade routes across Central Asia rather than via South Asia and Mesopotamia. For this scenario to be plausible, the post-Pleistocene climatic conditions must have been favourable to allow for a northward extension of the native distribution of tropical Red jungle fowl currently not found north of ∼25°N. This study combines Holocene palaeoclimate and archaeofaunal archives with new zooarchaeological insights alongside a discussion of methodological issues and cultural aspects in order to revisit the hypothesis of an early Holocene Gallus domestication and Neolithic poultry husbandry in Northern China. Our results regarding the natural and cultural history of Red jungle fowl and domestic chickens in East Asia, and the timing of chicken dispersal across the Old World suggest that an early Holocene domestication of chickens is problematic at best. We conclude by postulating an alternative model for the early exploitation of a key domestic species in present-day East Asia.