Were chickens exploited in the Neolithic early rice cultivation society of the lower Yangtze River?

Abstract

The origins of chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) domestication have remained debatable for over a century. China, and particularly northern China, has been claimed as one of the early centers for the domestication of chickens, because many alleged chicken bones have been discovered at a number of archeological sites. However, the identification of archeological domestic chicken bones from early Holocene sites in northern China remains contentious. The Neolithic chicken exploitation in southern China close to modern distribution area of wild red junglefowl (G. gallus) remained unclear, since analyses of bird bones were scarce in the region. To reveal the birds, especially chicken, exploitation in Neolithic southern China, we analyzed bird remains from Tianluoshan site which is located in the lower Yangtze River and is a ruin of large village in the Neolithic early rice cultivation society. Ducks (Anatinae), rails (Rallidae), and geese/swans (Anserinae) were dominant, suggesting that peoples in the Tianluoshan site got birds at inland and brackish waters environments near the site. Although two G. gallus size bones were found at the site, it is also included in the size range of five indigenous pheasants in the region and further studies are required for the species identification of the bones. Phasianidae bones occupied only 0.4% of NISP, suggesting Phasianidae birds, including domestic chickens and red junglefowls, were rarely exploited in the Tianluoshan site. The results did not support the north-word expanded wild distribution of red junglefowl nor early Holocene chicken exploitation in the lower Yangtze River.

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Acknowledgments

Phasianidae bones were studied at Abiko City Museum of Birds (Japan), Bavarian State Collection of Anthropology and Palaeoanatomy, Munich (Germany), Field Science Center, Nagoya University (Japan), Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science (U.S.A.), Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology (U.S.A.), Hokkaido University Museum (Japan), Nagoya University Museum (Japan), Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (Japan), the National Science Museum, Tokyo (Japan), the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (U.S.A.), and Yamashina Institute for Ornithology (Japan), and personal collections of Dr. Kazuto Kawakami (Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, Japan). Helpful comments from Dr. Frank J. Dirrigl, Jr. and an anonymous reviewer clarified the strengths and weaknesses of this study.

Funding

This study was partially financially supported from Japan Society for the Promotion of Science KAKENHI Grant Numbers 26242020, 22240083, 16H00742, and 18H04172.

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Correspondence to Masaki Eda.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Avian Zooarchaeology: Prehistoric and Historical Insights

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Eda, M., Kikuchi, H., Sun, G. et al. Were chickens exploited in the Neolithic early rice cultivation society of the lower Yangtze River?. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 6423–6430 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-019-00783-x

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Keywords

  • Chicken
  • Domestication
  • Morphology
  • Zooarcheology