Chickens in Oceania

A recent paper (Storey et al., 2008.) has attempted to synthesise the information on Oceanic chicken (Gallus gallus) distribution in order to develop a clearer picture of this species in Pacific prehistory as previously this information had been rather piecemeal. It is generally accepted that chickens were an important part of the ‘transported landscape’ of Oceanic populations (Storey et al., 2008: 240). This phrase refers to “the purposeful translocation of all or most of the plant and animal stocks required to recreate the range of subsistence items found at a colonist’s home island” (Storey et al, 2008: 240-241). It has been suggested that chicken was one of the first species to be intentionally introduced to Remote Oceanic sites, but data on this species does not feature prominently in site reports or articles. Yet for prehistoric Pacific peoples, chickens were clearly an important part of their diet and/or culture, as demonstrated by their presence on sites from Santa Cruz to Easter Island and Hawaii.

Near Oceania is the most obviously depleted as far as chicken populations are concerned with chicken being reported on only 3 out of 107 sites. The distribution in Remote Oceania is not uniform. Chicken was present at 108 Remote Oceanic sites out of a total of 321 that were analysed. Some areas such as New Caledonia are notable for the complete absence of chicken, whereas others such as Niue have an outstanding abundance. The earliest layers it appears in in this region are dated at c. 3000 BP in the Reef/Santa Cruz, and in Vanuatu and Tonga shortly afterwards. In Micronesia chicken is limited to specific pockets and there is no secure evidence from Polynesian outliers.

Factors that could have influenced the observed distribution are: human choice, taphonomy, extinction, extirpation and and incomplete faunal analysis, and these need further analysis. However, current evidence suggests that chickens were introduced by Lapita colonists into Western Polynesia. They were subsequently introduced into Central and Eastern Polynesia during the Polynesian expansion. In some places they became extinct, but in others they gained great importance, possibly due to the absence of other domesticates. They appear to have been introduced into Micronesia c. 2000 BP.

Reference: Storey, AA, Ladefoged, T, and Matisoo-Smith, EA. 2008. Counting your chickens: density and distribution of chicken remains in archaeological sites of Oceania. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 18: 240-261

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4 responses to “Chickens in Oceania

  1. Pingback: Dear Kitty. Some blog :: Top 10 archaeological discoveries of 2007 :: December :: 2007

  2. richardparker01

    Very interesting blog. I wrote about chickens in SE Asia at:
    http://www.coconutstudio.com/Chickens.htm
    and I am very interested indeed in anything about Austronesians.
    If you have a copy of the paper, could you possible send me it to:
    richardparker01@yahoo.com?

  3. richardparker01

    I also tried to comment at on your previous chicken post, but it didn’t work – here it is:

    I suspect that the origin of some chickens (yellow-skinned ones as in Europe) do have some admixture of grey jungle fowl, but ‘native’ chickens in SE Asia are pure-bred, from red jungle fowl.
    Take a look at the chickens at:
    http://www.coconutstudio.com/Chickens.htm
    They all have white legs.
    The uncle of my ‘general factotum’ still goes to the Marshes of Agusan on Mindanao to trap wild red jungle fowl for crossing with his own fighting birds.

    I imagine there was a great deal of cross-breeding going on in SE Asia before THE chicken got to Europe.

    and, to prove it…….

    Darwin was NEVER wrong!

  4. Richard, thank you for your comments. Your site was very interesting.

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