Did Chickens Beat Columbus To New World?

Chicken on map crossing the Pacific AP / CBS

Why did the chicken cross the ocean?

To get to America before Columbus — and from the other direction — according to a new report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Many scholars had thought chickens arrived in the New World with the early Spanish or Portuguese explorers around the year 1500.

When Juan Pizarro arrived at the Inca empire in 1532, however, he found chickens already being used there, raising the possibility they had been around for some time.

And now, researchers led by Alice Storey at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, report finding evidence that may ruffle some scholarly feathers. They found chicken bones of Polynesian origin at a site in what is now Chile.

Radiocarbon dating of chicken bones at the site on the Arauco Peninsula in south central Chile indicated a range of A.D. 1321 to 1407, well before the Spanish arrival in the Americas.

The researchers were able to obtain DNA from some of the bones of these early birds, and found they were identical to ancient chicken bones previously found in Tonga and Samoa.

Chicken had been used in the Pacific for at least 3,000 years, spreading eastward across the region as Polynesians gradually populated the islands.

The DNA from these chickens also shared some unique sequences with modern Araucana chickens from South America and some current chicken types in Hawaii and Southeast Asia, the researchers found.
  • Sean Alfano

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