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Early Evidence for Domestic Chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) in the Horn of Africa

ABSTRACT

Domestic chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus L. 1758) are one of the most valued farm animals in the world today. Chickens are widespread and economically and socially significant in Africa. Despite their importance, little is known about the nature of their introduction and subsequent integration into African economies. One reason for this is the morphological similarity of domestic chickens to wild galliform birds in Africa such as guineafowl and francolin. Here, we present direct dates and morphological evidence for domestic chickens recovered from Mezber, a pre‐Aksumite (>800–450 BCE) rural farming settlement in northern Ethiopia. Key morphological markers differentiated these domestic chickens from francolins. The Mezber direct chicken element accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dates of cal 820–595 BCE and indirect/charcoal AMS dates of cal 921–801 BCE constitute the earliest osteological evidence for chickens in Africa. Chicken bones in the domestic food waste of an early rural settlement at Mezber and their presence in later Aksumite urban contexts show that chickens were integrated into diverse Ethiopian highland settings. The Mezber specimens predate the earliest known Egyptian chickens by at least 550 years and draw attention to early exotic faunal exchanges in the Horn of Africa during the early first millennium BCE. These findings support previous archaeological, genetics and linguistic data that suggest maritime exchange networks with South Arabia through ports along the African Red Sea coast constitute one possible early route of introduction of chickens to Africa. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.