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  • The annals of Ancient Egyptian king Thutmose III

  • described a marvelous foreign bird that

  • gives birth daily.”

  • Zoroastrians viewed them as spirits

  • whose cries told of the cosmic struggle

  • between darkness and light.

  • Romans brought them on their military campaigns

  • to foretell the success of future battles.

  • And today, this bird still occupies an important,

  • though much less honorable position

  • on our dinner plates.

  • The modern chicken is descended primarily from the Red Junglefowl,

  • and partially from three other closely related species,

  • all native to India and Southeast Asia.

  • The region’s bamboo plants produce

  • massive amounts of fruit

  • just once every few decades.

  • Junglefowlsability to lay eggs daily

  • may have evolved to take advantage of these rare feasts,

  • increasing their population when food was abundant.

  • This was something humans could exploit

  • on a consistent basis,

  • and the birdsweak flight capabilities

  • and limited need for space made them

  • easy to capture and contain.

  • The earliest domesticated chickens,

  • dating at least back to 7,000 years ago,

  • weren’t bred for food,

  • but for something considered less savory today.

  • The aggressiveness of breeding males,

  • armed with natural leg spurs,

  • made cockfighting a popular entertainment.

  • By the second millennium BCE,

  • chickens had spread from the Indus Valley to China

  • and the Middle East to occupy royal menageries

  • and to be used in religious rituals.

  • But it was in Egypt

  • where the next chapter in the bird’s history began.

  • When a hen naturally incubates eggs,

  • she will stop laying new ones

  • and sit on a “clutchof 6 or more eggs for 21 days.

  • By the middle of the 1st millennium BCE,

  • the Egyptians had learned

  • to artificially incubate chicken eggs

  • by placing them in baskets over hot ashes.

  • That freed up hens to continue laying daily,

  • and what had been a royal delicacy

  • or religious offering

  • became a common meal.

  • Around the same time as Egyptians were incubating eggs,

  • Phoenician merchants introduced chickens to Europe,

  • where they quickly became an essential part

  • of European livestock.

  • However, for a long time,

  • the chicken’s revered status continued to exist

  • alongside its culinary one.

  • The Ancient Greeks used fighting roosters

  • as inspirational examples for young soldiers.

  • The Romans consulted chickens as oracles.

  • And as late as the 7th Century,

  • the chicken was considered a symbol for Christianity.

  • Over the next few centuries,

  • chickens accompanied humans wherever they went,

  • spreading throughout the world through trade,

  • conquest,

  • and colonization.

  • After the Opium Wars,

  • Chinese breeds were brought to England

  • and crossed with local chickens.

  • This gave rise to a phenomenon called

  • Hen Fever

  • orThe Fancy”,

  • with farmers all over Europe

  • striving to breed new varieties

  • with particular combinations of traits.

  • This trend also caught the attention

  • of a certain Charles Darwin, who wondered if

  • a similar selective breeding process occurred in nature.

  • Darwin would observe hundreds of chickens

  • while finalizing his historic work

  • introducing the theory of Evolution.

  • But the chicken’s greatest contribution to science

  • was yet to come.

  • In the early 20th century,

  • a trio of British scientists

  • conducted extensive crossbreeding of chickens,

  • building on Gregor Mendel’s

  • studies of genetic inheritance.

  • With their high genetic diversity,

  • many distinct traits,

  • and only 7 months between generations,

  • chickens were the perfect subject.

  • This work resulted in the famous Punnett Square,

  • used to show the genotypes that would result

  • from breeding a given pairing.

  • Since then,

  • numerous breeding initiatives have made chickens

  • bigger and meatier,

  • and allowed them to lay more eggs than ever.

  • Meanwhile,

  • chicken production has shifted to an industrial, factory-like model,

  • with birds raised in spaces with a footprint

  • no larger than a sheet of paper.

  • And while there’s been a shift towards free-range farming

  • due to animal rights and environmental concerns,

  • most of the world’s more than 22 billion chickens today

  • are factory farmed.

  • From gladiators and gifts to the gods,

  • to traveling companions and research subjects,

  • chickens have played many roles over the centuries.

  • And though they may not have come before the proverbial egg,

  • chickensfascinating history tells us a great deal about our own.

The annals of Ancient Egyptian king Thutmose III

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B2 TED-Ed chicken breeding darwin bce bird

History through the eyes of a chicken - Chris A. Kniesly

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/03/19
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