The Ancient City Where People Decided To Eat Chickens
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
An ancient abandoned city in Israel has revealed a clue as to how chicken became one of the pillars of the human diet. The clue is a collection of bones. Apparently, they are leftovers from a 2000-year-old version of KFC. NPR's Dan Charles reports.
DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: In southern Israel, archaeologists have been excavating a city called Maresha, unearthing pieces of Greek civilization from 2,400 years ago. Lee Perry-Gal, a doctoral student of archeology at the University of Haifa, says Maresha was a meeting place of cultures.
LEE PERRY-GAL: The site itself is located on a trade route between Jerusalem and Egypt.
CHARLES: And recently, according to a report just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the archaeologists found something unusual here - chicken bones.
PERRY-GAL: This was very, very surprising.
CHARLES: The surprising thing was not that chickens lived there. Humans have kept chickens around for thousands of years, starting in Southeast Asia and China, but not, curiously, for their meat or their eggs. People were raising those birds for cockfighting or for special ceremonies, and they left behind just a few bones for the archaeologists. Here in Maresha, on the Mediterranean trade route, something changed. This site contained more than a thousand bones.
PERRY-GAL: They were very well preserved. They were extremely preserved.
CHARLES: Perry-Gal could see butchering marks on them. These chickens apparently were being raised for their meat. People were eating their eggs too. She says there could be a couple of reasons why. Maybe in the dry Mediterranean climate, people learned better how to raise large numbers of chickens in captivity. Maybe the chickens evolved physically and became more attractive as food. But Perry-Gal thinks part of it must've been a shift in people's ideas and customs.
PERRY-GAL: It's a matter of culture. You have to decide that you're eating chicken from now on.
CHARLES: In the history of Western cuisine, Maresha appears to mark a turning point. A century later, the chicken-eating habit began spreading across the Roman Empire.
PERRY-GAL: From this point on, we see chicken everywhere in Europe. We see a bigger and bigger percent of chicken. It's like a new cell phone, you know? You see it everywhere.
CHARLES: Today, of course, chicken-eating really is everywhere. It's the most commonly eaten meat in America. Globally, it's second, behind pork, but it's rapidly catching up. Within five years, humans will probably eat more chicken than any other meat. Dan Charles, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.