Chicken salad

Ultimately, researchers hope to get ancient DNA from well-dated bones. But “replicable DNA has been as rare as hen’s teeth,” Zeder says, thanks to contamination issues and tropical climes that degrade DNA. One team recently claimed to have mtDNA from an ancient Polynesian chicken bone in Chile — a dramatic find that would prove Polynesians reached the Americas before Columbus — but the find has been questioned as possibly contaminated (Science, 11 June 2010, p. 1344). Techniques are improving, however…

That cliff-hanger is a quote from a rather attractive Science spread enticingly entitled “In Search of the Wild Chicken,” reproduced a few days ago in an ILRI blog post. It’s a great story, but one wonders why there was not at least a mention of the recent paper in PLOSOne “Investigating the Global Dispersal of Chickens in Prehistory Using Ancient Mitochondrial DNA Signatures.” Those authors, after all, had 92 — count them!! — archaeological chicken bones to play with, and spun a convincing tale of “multiple prehistoric dispersals from a single Asian centre” from their analysis. Is there something of a rivalry developing in the highly competitive world of chicken DNA? Probably not, and no doubt we’ll be getting lots of cease and desist notices from the denizens of said world for even suggesting such a thing.

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