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Professor Charles Higham - Department of Anthropology
University of Otago - Dunedin - New Zealand  

3-6-1980  

Dear Professor Higham,  

I thank you so much for your letter and enclosure of your paper on the excavations in Northern Thailand which I received yesterday. Also thank you for the information on Miss Cave. Perhaps I may catch up with her at a later date. The information you gave proved very interesting indeed. I have not studied the paper in depth as yet and, being as I am a layman, am not conversant with some of the technical terms. However I can see from a preliminary study it should be of much assistance in research.  

I gather from your letter that the chicken’s bones uncovered would date around 3500 BC. What would be most interesting would be to know whether the bones excavated belonged to a Bankivoid (Gallus Bankiva - Red Jungle Fowl or offshoots) or to the Malay (Gallus giganteus Temminck).  

According to Finsterbusch (1929) who made a detailed study of Game Fowl throughout the world the Bankivoid and Malay were 2 distinct species. I agree with him entirely and would be inclined to go one step further grouping the Asiatics (Cochin - Langshan - Brahma) into another species which are so different again from the 2 forms previously mentioned. However I do not have any specific evidence of this. Darwin in his narration of animals and plants under domestication discusses skull shapes etc but does not apparently attach too much importance to the differences. However Finsterbusch on the other hand from his observations believes that the head is important when considering ancestry. There would be no doubt genetic mutations have occurred but it is hard to imagine that the vast differences existing between the Malays, Bankivoids and Asiatics (which were considered to come from China) were all caused by mutations.  

Therefore I would find it very interesting to discover from what line the chicken bones at Ban Chiang spring. I am enclosing a photostat from Finsterbusch outlining his description of the bone structure differences between the Bankivoids and Malay. You may find his notes of interest. If at any time the chicken bones are given further study I would be pleased to hear the results of any findings.  

I think I mentioned in my previous letter of the chicken bones unearthed on Watom Island, New Britain, the information from Mr Specht of the Australian Museum in Sydney. Unfortunately no specific identification was made regarding species with these bones. I have always felt that the discovery of chicken bone when considering the distribution of civilisation itself could play an important part in any research on the subject.  

I do appreciate your assistance on this matter as it has given me encouragement to continue on with my quest on finding answers to the origin, evolution and distribution of the domestic chicken. I will continue my research whilst I am able. If you do happen to find a moment to further study the chicken bones you may like to compare them against Finsterbusch’s description.  

Sincerely yours,




Dear Mr Plant:

I obtained your address from Mrs Dupré of AVICULTRA magazine.

Your article, Thoughts on the origin of domestic fowl, compares to my findings. In my judgement too many scientists got carried away with Darwin’s speculation on the origin of both the domestic chicken and the domestic pigeon.

For more than 55 years I have been searching into this matter and have had a dozen or more articles published on the subject. An example is enclosed.

I have visited your country, but the last time was about 20 years ago.

Sincerely,

American Poultry Association - Year Book 1990

THE ENIGMA OF THE CHICKENS ORIGIN

By Jerome J.Pratt

The origin of the domestic chicken (Gallus domesticus) aroused my curiosity since I first started to study the Standard of perfection as a teenager. Dr J.P.Schneeberger's experiments with fertile chicken-pheasant hybrids stimulated me to write an article on Hybridization which appeared in the 1939 American pheasant Society yearbook. My next article on the subject Was It The Junglefowl appeared ten years later, April 1949, in Modern Game Breeding Magazine. Simultaneously, I had another article Origin of Fowl Challenged appear in The American Poultryman. I did not then or do I now accept the claim that all domestic chickens are the progeny of a single source, the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus ). It Is on example of where If Scholars repeat a theory often enough it will eventually be accepted as fact.

In the same issue of The American Poultryman mentioned above, Harry Atkins wrote: “We feel certain that many of our fowl are not directly from the junglefowl. but have a mixture of pheasant blood in the lines. I have photographs and data of a domestic line of fowl in which there were distinct infusions of pheasant blood starting with an old black hen. In several generations we were able to develop a silver pencilled pattern with a crest.”

The photographs mentioned by Mr Atkins were taken by Arthur O.Schilling in 1941. The negatives are in my files with Mr Schilling's handwritten note stating: “These are negatives of cross bred birds that Dr Schneeberger has. They are direct crosses on chickens and pheasants which he made to prove our domestic breeds have pheasant blood in them. I handled all these birds and found them all to appear to be cross-breeds.”

Now we have archaeologists supporting the single source of origin theory. In the November 1989, World's Poultry Science Journal, a paper by Barbara West and Ben-Xiong Zhou appears under the title “Did chickens go north? New evidence for domestication.” Ms West is with the British Museum in London, and Ben Xiong Zhou also known as Chow Ben-Shun is with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

A summary of the West-Zhou thesis Is as follows:

"Using archaeological evidence for chicken domestication from China, Asia and Europe, as well as palaeoclimatic evidence from China, it is concluded that chickens were domesticated from the red junglefowl Gallus gallus in Southeast Asia well before the sixth millennium BC and taken north to become established in China by c. 6000 BC, whence they were later introduced to Japan via Korea during the Yayoi Period (c. 300 BC - 300 AD). Domestication occurred in India much later (c. 2000 BC?), either independently or. as a diffusion from Southeast Asia. Although the Iron Age was the main period for dispersion of chickens throughout Europe, they were already present in some areas during the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age. It is proposed that the earliest European material may be derived from China via Russia. Because the key is likely to lie in central areas of the USSR. the findings of positive or negative evidence for the theory will depend on the interest d archaeologists working in the Soviet Union. Their collaboration is invited."

I wrote to Mrs West pointing out that the conclusion chickens were first domesticated in Southeastern Asia from the red junglefowl, Gallus gallus, infers, but probably not intentional, that the Gallus gallus is the sole progenitor of Gallus domesticus which I cannot accept. I stated, "There is enough circumstantial evidence manifested in morphology, physiology, and ethology to support there is a missing link in tracing the ancestry of the domestic chicken."

An abrupt reply from Ms West let me know her support for Gallus gallus as the sole progenitor was indeed intentional. In other words Ms West is satisfied that all of the world’s fossilised bones have been discovered. I guess she isn't aware that palaeontologists are discovering new fossilized material constantly.

In the radical differences in various breeds of chickens occurred only through mutation and selection. why, hasn't the archaeologists been able to locate bones which show the progression of change? There is an amazing difference in the tarsometatarsi of the German Creeper and the Langshan in divergence from the jungle fowl. We can speculate the Creeper may be a Gallus gallus mutation which was developed through selection. But it would be a lot more difficult to trace the ancestor of the Langshan.

After writing the articles mentioned in the first paragraph I attended the Government's Strategic Intelligence School in Washington, DC. Here I learned that much of what can be applied to making economic and resource deductions can be applied to natural history as well. Information gathered from encyclopaedic analysis based on anatomical analogy can tell us as much if not more than a few fossilized bone fragments as it relates to the evolutionary process. With such reinforcement l am prone to give weight to circumstantial evidence as well as theory.

I can accept that some games, Mediterranean and similar breeds have evolved from the Gallus gallus. According to Wright, Temminck described a junglefowl called Gallus giganteus from Malay as an extinct race which seems to be a more reasonable ancestor of the Asiatic and large Oriental breeds. This I believe is the missing link. I have no doubt about the pure ancestry of the black Sumatra which originated from a specific source. Notes of Henry van Oordt on file in Rijks-museum van Natuurlijke in Leiden, The Netherlands, indicate that a bushfowl, Gallus sumatrensis, is extinct in the wild, but has been perpetuated as a domestic variety.

Our current understanding of evolutionary relationships has been largely derived from studies of comparative morphology. but new techniques are appearing. We may someday be able to trace the ancestry of the various breeds of domestic chickens to their wild source if we focus on DNA molecules. The DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) molecules encode the genetic information of an organism. But then if the Gallus giganteus and other species became extinct and no fossilized material is ever discovered there will still be a piece of the puzzle missing.

Except for the Sumatra, at present all we can say is that Gallus domesticus is a descendant of an unknown source. The scientists will continue to advance theories and some will offer them as fact. But those of us engaged in poultry husbandry are not always going to agree with scientific theories.

REFERENCES:

American Poultry Association, 1985, American Standard of Perfection, revised.

Banning-Vogelpoel, A.C. 1979, Personal communication, Waardenburg, Netherlands.

Darwin, Charles, 1868, The Variations of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, 2 vol., John Murray, London.

Hargrave, Lyndon L 1972, Comparative Ostelogy of the Chicken and American Grouse, Prescott College Press, Prescott, AZ.

Lucas, Alfred M. and Peter R.Stettenheim, 1972, Avian Anatomy Integument, 2 vol., Michigan State University, U.S. Govy, Printing Office, Washington.

Pratt, Jerome J. 1940, Hybridization, Modern Game Breeding Magazine 10(4) Doylestown, PA.

Pratt, Jerome J. 1949, Origin of Fowl, American Poultryman (April), Sulpulpa, QK.

Schmidt, Karl P. 1973, Taxonomy, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago - London.

Smith, Page and Charles Daniel, 1975, The Chicken Book, Little Brown & Co., Boston - Toronto.

West, Barbara and Ben Xiong Zhou, 1989, Did chickens go North? New evidence for domestication. World's Poultry Science Journal 45(3), WPSA, London.

Wright, L. c. 1900, Book of Poultry, Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London.





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