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It is coincidental that a regular Anthropology.net commenter, Terry, just posted a comment about last year’s study on the origins of early American chicken because PNAS published a new paper on this topic today. Razib pointed out the link to the new paper, “Indo-European and Asian origins for Chilean and Pacific chickens revealed by mtDNA.” This current study challenges claims of last year’s paper, the one that suggested that chickens were first introduced into South America by way of seafaring Polynesians, before the arrival of Spanish chickens in the 15th century.

After sampling the mtDNA from 41 native Chilean chickens and comparing the sequences to over 1000 modern domestic chickens from around the world, including the previously published sequences from Polynesian and Chilean chicken bones, the researchers concluded that ancient chickens from Easter Island may represent mtDNA signatures (haplotypes 145 and 148) of early Polynesian chicken transport, but ancient Chilean chickens do not. In fact, the pre-Columbian chickens have haplotype 8, which is the single most common chicken haplotype found around the world.

This indicates that pre-Columbian chickens were not exclusive to Polynesian peoples. Alan Cooper, one of the authors of this paper and the director of the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, said,

“This sequence would undoubtedly have been common in the early Spanish chickens, and therefore provides no evidence of Polynesian contact. So while we can say the [haplotype 8] chicken was popular amongst early Polynesian voyagers, we certainly can’t use it as evidence for trade with South America.”

    Gongora, J., Rawlence, N.J., Mobegi, V.A., Jianlin, H., Alcalde, J.A., Matus, J.T., Hanotte, O., Moran, C., Austin, J.J., Ulm, S., Anderson, A.J., Larson, G., Cooper, A. (2008). From the Cover: Indo-European and Asian origins for Chilean and Pacific chickens revealed by mtDNA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(30), 10308-10313. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0801991105