Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Pacific?

The NY Times and LA Times and all the wire services are carrying the story today of chicken bones recovered from an archaeological site in Chile that have been radiocarbon dated to between 1304 and 1424. DNA analysis shows that the chickens come from a breed common in Polynesian islands, which indicates they were brought to South America by Polynesian sailors prior to arrival of the Spanish.

This is a great discovery, but for some time most archaeologists have accepted that there was Precolumbian contact of this type as South American sweet potatoes were seen throughout Polynesia by the first European explorers to reach there. Polynesians were some of the world's greatest sailors and were certainly technically capable of these voyages. This discovery is direct proof rather than inferred, shows that the exchange of food types was reciprocal and gives the first firm Precolumbian dates.

The LA Times hypes the resistence of scholars to this theory. It also quotes Terry Jones, an archaeologist from Cal Poly - SLO, who says this supports his theory that Chumash Indians in California learned plank canoe construction techniques from Polynesians, the subject of my very first post here. That theory has taken quite a whacking in a couple of subsequent articles in American Antiquity that I'll address in another post.

Also check out John Hawks Anthropology Weblog where he has some sensible and interesting comments on the discovery.

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