Chicken beats Columbus to Americas

June 11, 2007 at 5:00 am 2 comments

Photo taken in ThailandApparently, a chook beat Columbus to America. Well, some chickens hitching a ride on a boat sailed to the Americas by Polynesian voyagers:)- Chilean archaeologists have dug up chicken bones at a site on the Arauco Peninsula in south-central Chile and sent the bones to the University of Auckland, New Zealand for carbon-dating and DNA testing.

The 50 chicken bones from at least five individual birds date from between 1321 and 1407 – around 100 years before the arrival of Europeans. And apparently this date range coincides with the colonization of the easternmost islands of Polynesia, including Pitcairn and Easter Island – the latter being a likely launch spot for a voyage to South America, which would have taken less than two weeks. The Chilean chicken DNA is genetically identical to prehistoric samples from Tonga and American Samoa, and a near identical match to Easter Island DNA samples.

It’s been hotly contested for many years that Polynesians beat Europeans to the Americas, but seems the humble chook bones just might be the first direct evidence and certainly shows that the chicken was introduced before the arrival of Europeans. Curiously, modern-day South Americans show no signs of Polynesian ancestry but apparently the Polynesians preferred to settle only on uninhabited islands. If they found other people already there, they’d push off back home.

The discovery of the Americas gets curiouser and curiouser the more you look into it. In 2003, a sun-drenched landscape in Mexico became a battleground when geoarchaeologists maintained that 160 pockmarks in a quarry were human footprints. The problem is the footprints are some 30,000 years older than they should be. These footprints are hotly contested as they may refute the conventional theory of the peopling of the Americas, which has its origins in the 1920s and suggests that big-game hunters from north-east Asia crossed the Bering land bridge linking Siberia and Alaska about 13,400 years ago and became the ancestors of modern-day Native Americans. These big-game hunters are known as the Clovis people (named after a site in Mexico where their distinctive tools were discovered). There is some evidence to suggest that human occupation occured at least 1000 years before the Clovis hunters arrived. But to claim that humans were roaming the Americas 30,000 years earlier still is shaping up to be a controversial issue.

Then there’s the 9300 year skeleton found in Oregon in the mid-1990s and other evidence that points to the possibility that east Asians may have arrived by foot and boat, along with European companions at least 25,000 years ago.

Thor Heyerdahl, Norwegian sailor and anthropologist (who became well-known for his Kon-Tiki voyage in the 1940s) put forward the argument that a bunch of Egyptian pyramid experts schlepped across the Atlantic on a papyrus boat pre-2000 BC, landed in Central America and taught the indigenous population the art of pyramid building – hence the supposed similarity between Central American pyramid-style structures and the Egyptian pyramids.

Other theories suggest that the Americas were discovered by: the Lost Tribes of Israel; the Cathaginians; St Brendan the Navigator; the Chinese on a junk boat; the Viking, Erik the Red; Amerigo Vespucci; John Cabot (the latter two I’ve blogged about before).

Seems the name of the actual discoverer of the Americas has been lost in the mists of time, but I’m voting for the chook!


Entry filed under: Archaeology, Curiousity, History.

ThinkingShift’s wild night How curious!

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tara Von Richardson  |  June 12, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    The “conventional” view that you mention about big-game hunters coming to the Americas is no longer accepted by most archaeologists and anthropologists. There is just too much evidence to refute the Clovis-first model. A good book that discusses this information is “Respect for the Ancestors: American Indian Cultural Affiliation in the American West” by Peter N. Jones. He clearly shows how the Clovis-first model, as well as the idea that early Americans killed off all the Pleistocene big-game is no longer tenable. The Polynesian connection is interesting, and some have argued that there is dental and DNA evidence for such a connection, but so far there is no evidence that can lend any creedence to the theory that Polynesians actually landed in South America and were able to maintain a viable population.

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  June 12, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    Hi Tara
    Thx for the reference to Jones’ book, I’ll certainly look it up. Will be interesting to follow the Polynesian possibility.


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