What came first to human households — the goose or the chicken? A group of researchers says the former.
The goose may be the oldest domesticated poultry in the world’s history, with evidence from China suggesting that the birds may have existed among humans thousands of years ago, according to a new finding published Monday in the international academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers said ancient goose bones collected from a 7,000-year-old rice-farming village in east China’s Zhejiang province indicated that domestication dates back to the 5th millennium B.C. in the Neolithic Period.
“The interesting point is that the oldest (domesticated bird) is not chickens, but geese,” Masaki Eda, associate professor at Hokkaido University in Japan and lead author of the study, told Sixth Tone, adding that the finding contests the widely-held belief that chicken is the earliest poultry in the world.
Contrary to chicken — the most commonly farmed bird in China and elsewhere globally — goose is a minor poultry species. Though China dominates the global production of goose meat, the animal is not a leading source of food at the dining table for Chinese people, apart from a few popular dishes such as roast goose.
The finding’s supporting evidence was discovered at the site of Zhejiang’s Tianluoshan area, which contains the remains of a rice cultivation village of the ancient Hemudu Culture. Researchers found out some of the studied bones belonged to locally bred geese, whose diet may have included paddy rice in the village — different from migratory geese — suggesting signs of early domestication.
Based on butchering and manufacturing marks found on the bones, researchers suggested that the locally bred geese provided raw materials for tools and additional food for people at that time. Eda said that geese were not the main source of meat even then, with deer and ducks more common on the platter.
With evidence suggesting a much longer history of geese domestication in Neolithic China, researchers said that the locally bred geese at Tianluoshan may be ancestors of today’s European domestic geese.
Meanwhile, researchers noted that although some studies traced the early domestication of chickens to the earlier 9th millennium B.C., the reliability of their evidence remained “questionable.” According to Eda, a more widely-recognized conclusion indicated that the earliest chicken domestication appeared over 2,000 years ago in India.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: A man feeds geese at a village in Taizhou, Zhejiang province, Sept. 1, 2020. VCG)