Apparently humans have kept chickens for much longer—as in, thousands of years longer—than they were considered food first and foremost. So what were our ancestors using the chickens for, if not McNuggets?

The New York Times recaps the latest in chicken studies (h/t Fark). “It looks like from all the evidence that chickens existed for a very long time in association with people and they were not food,” said Oxford professor Greger Larson, who’s studying the history of human-chicken interactions. (He also researches the domestication of dogs.) You see:

Before the raising of chickens became industrial, they were far less important to human diets, and for thousands of years, their primary role seems to have been in cockfighting or various rituals. Estimates of the time of their domestication are from 7,000 to 10,000 years ago, but a recent report from an archaeological dig in Israel concluded that they were first eaten in significant numbers about 2,200 years ago.

The chicken project will investigate, among other things, just exactly what we were doing with chickens for all that time.

In the meantime, Larson offered an example to the Times:

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In an excavation of a village in Austria, where people lived in the early Middle Ages, around the sixth to eighth centuries, archaeologists found people buried with their chickens and other goods. The cockerels were buried with men and the hens with women. And the cocks buried with the high-status men had longer fighting spurs than the chickens buried with poorer men.

Studies also suggested that “chickens and people had been sharing a very similar environment and diet,” meaning the birds probably weren’t shuffled off to the far corner of the farm but rather kept close. Larson and his team hope to flesh out the relationship between humans and chickens in more detail, but it sounds like he has the proper level of respect for his subject matter.


Contact the author at kelly@jezebel.com.

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Photo via Getty Images.