What did man eat first – the chicken or the egg?

A major research project that will examine the history of people and chickens has been awarded £1,940,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.  It hopes to investigate how the chicken, which is descended from the wild jungle fowl of southeast Asia, became one of the world’s most important livestock animals over the last 8,000 years.

Known as the Chicken Project, it is led by Dr Mark Maltby from Bournemouth University, it also includes researchers from the Universities of Durham, Nottingham, Leicester, Roehampton and York, who will be examining when and how rapidly domesticated chickens spread across Europe and the history of their exploitation for meat and eggs. The project will also investigate the ancient and modern cultural significance of the birds in, for example, religious rituals and cockfighting. Research will include metrical and DNA analysis of modern and ancient chicken bones to trace the development of different breeds.

Dr Maltby said, “This is a fantastic opportunity to work with a team of high international esteem drawn from a wide range of disciplines that includes genetics, cultural anthropology, history and archaeological science. We are united by our mutual research interests in how chickens and people have interacted in the past and the present.”

The results of the research will form the basis a series of exhibitions in museums and other venues throughout the UK making up ‘The Chicken Trail’ that will tell the story of the chicken’s domestication in Europe and there are also plans to display some of the research findings in butchers shops.

The project, officially entitled “Cultural and Scientific Perceptions of Human-Chicken Interactions”, was made possible with the help of the £1.94 million grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council under the Science In Culture Awards Large Grants call. The project will also involve collaboration with academic colleagues across Europe and with poultry breeders and other interested members of the public.

Work is due to begin in January 2014 and the research will be completed in 2017 – coinciding with The Chinese Year of the Rooster. The work is supported by an interactive research network “The Chicken Coop” and the latest information and breaking news about the research can be found at

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