Cultural and Scientific Perceptions of Human- Chicken Interactions

Large Grant

Project Team:

Principal Investigator:

Dr Mark Maltby, University of Bournemouth


Professor Matthew Collins, University of York

Dr Oliver Craig, University of York

Dr Greger Larson, Durham University

Professor Gary Marvin, Roehampton University

Professor Terry O’Connor, University of York

Dr Naomi Sykes, University of Nottingham

Dr Richard Thomas, University of Leicester

Award Information:

The chicken is native to Southeast Asia but over the last 8,000 years it has been transported by people around the world – no other livestock species is so widely established. The chicken’s eastward spread from Asia to the Americas has been the subject of many studies; however, its diffusion to the West has received much less attention. There have been a few small scale surveys documenting the spread of chickens across Europe but there has been no comprehensive review about the rapidity of the spread and its cultural and environmental impacts. No ancient (and little modern) DNA work has been published for European chickens, nor have there been any isotopic studies focussed specifically upon their diets or whether they were bred locally or traded. Given the social and cultural significance of this species (whether as a provider of meat, eggs or feathers, its widespread use in cockfighting or its association with ritual, magic and medicine), a detailed analysis of the natural and cultural history of chickens in Europe is long overdue and this has genuine potential to provide cultural data of the highest quality and relevance for a range of disciplines and audiences.

To realise this potential and elucidate the circumstances and meaning of the westward spread of the chicken from the late prehistoric period to modern times our trans-disciplinary team – composed of experts of international renown in European archaeology, anthropology, genetics, zooarchaeology, and other branches of archaeological science – will integrate the evidence from their specialist studies.

Research will be carried out at the Universities of Bournemouth, Nottingham, Roehampton, Durham, Leicester and York to investigate these questions. This work will be supported by an interactive research network “The Chicken Coop” that has already been established. In addition to the Chicken Coop members, we will work with colleagues from many parts of the UK and continental Europe, who will supply information and samples for analysis. Our research will directly involve groups drawn from beyond the academic community (including schoolchildren, chicken breeders and artists), with whom we will collaborate to produce physical and virtual art exhibitions. These will complement a series of museum exhibitions ‘The Chicken Trail’ that, together, will tell the story of the chicken’s domestication and spread across Europe.

The research will generate a large number of papers for academic journals and provide other publications and outputs aimed at a wider audience. The project aims to use the study of chickens to demonstrate how studies in the arts, humanities and sciences can be fused together for the benefit of both academic and non-academic communities.

Project dates: October 2013- September 2016