Captain Cook's lost chickens rediscovered?

J R Wood, M J B Herrera, R P Scofield, J M Wilmshurst, 2016. Origin and timing of New Zealand's earliest domestic chickens: Polynesian commensals or European introductions? Open Science.

Human settlers transported chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) to most East Polynesian archipelagos between AD 1000 and 1300; however, it has long been assumed that New Zealand was an exception.

Chicken Bone2Despite the fact that chicken bones have been recovered from localities of early archaeological middens in New Zealand, their age and genetic relationships have never been critically assessed. Here, we test the assumption that chickens were not introduced to New Zealand during prehistory through ancient DNA and radiocarbon analyses of chicken bones from sites of Māori middens containing prehistoric material.

The chickens belong to the widespread mitochondrial control region haplogroup E. Radiocarbon dating reveals that the bones are not prehistoric, but are still the earliest chicken remains known from New Zealand. Two of the bones pre-date permanent European settlement (ca 1803s onwards) but overlap with the arrival of James Cook's second voyage (1773–1774), and, therefore, they are likely to be chickens, or progeny thereof, liberated during that voyage.

Our results support the idea that chickens were first introduced to New Zealand by Europeans, and provide new insights into Māori uptake and integration of resources introduced during the early post-European period.