Researchers at the Haifa University announced on July 21 that a team of researchers excavating the site of Maresha in the southern Judean plain found evidence that chicken and eggs were eaten in the area well before other antiquity sites.
According to a study published by researchers from the Haifa University’s Zinman Institute of Archeology in the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) journal, there is evidence that suggests that chickens were first industrialized in Southern Israel during the Hellenistic period.
“Chicken remains found from the Hellenistic period (4th century BC) in the Judean lowlands shed light on the beginnings of this economic revolution, and show the earliest evidence of the western world’s large-scale industrial poultry,” the university said in a statement.
“The change was sharp and fast, and within a few decades, chickens were based throughout the Middle East. It seems residents cultivated a new breed of rooster particularly suitable for commercial growth.”
The researchers said that the findings give new information on the beginnings of the economic exploitation of roosters, and then chickens, as the researchers tracked its rise from the Mediterranean to Europe.
“Hundreds of years of gradual acclimatization of roosters in the southern Mediterranean Levant, along with the gradual adoption of this animal in the Middle Eastern economy, probably created a strain of rooster suitable for economic exploitation,” the researchers concluded.
“Globalization that characterized the Hellenistic regime in our region, compounded with developments in international science and commerce, created the right conditions for change in the status of the rooster to generate income, and serve as food.”
Chickens were first raised in the Far East and Southeast Asia 8,000 years ago and reached the Middle East in small amounts 5,000 years later. At that time, the researchers said that the animals were considered exotic and mainly were used for worship and cockfights.
Before this research, it was previously unknown as to when and where chickens became mass-produced for consumption.
However, Haifa University’s Prof. Ayelet Gilboa and Prof. Guy Bar-Oz said that 2,300-year-old chicken bones from the Hellenistic period discovered near underground ancient breeding facilities in a Judean settlement in Lakhish pointed to the idea that chicken exports played a key role in the community’s economic development.
“During this time the chicken was very rare in Europe,” Gilboa said.
“Plenty of bones, along with signs of fire and slaughter, indicate that the chickens were also eaten on site. The large quantity of bones reinforces the assumption that some of the major industries used the chickens for export.”’
In addition, Bar-Oz said that wall paintings and figurines of roosters discovered during excavations in the area also show compelling evidence of the importance of chickens to the ancient city’s economy.
Analysis of the bones found at the site also determined that female chickens were raised to produce large quantities of eggs.
“In light of these discoveries, the researchers conducted a comprehensive survey of no less than 230 sites in the southern Levant, from the 2nd millennium BC,” the university said in a statement.
“The findings showed that during the Hellenistic period there was a dramatic leap, both in the percentage of chickens, and the percentage of chicken sites.”
The researchers also noted that comparable chicken facilities did not reach Europe for another 200 years.