Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Tracking Human Migration With Chicken DNA

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

(Andrei Niemimäki)ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—A new analysis of mitochondrial DNA in domestic chicken bones from Polynesian archaeological sites and modern chickens by Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide challenges the idea that a genetic mutation in South American chickens links them to early chickens from Polynesia. “We found instead this quite distinct Pacific genetic signature—with four particular markers—that we only find in the Pacific and seems to be in all of the ancient Polynesian birds,” Cooper told Australia’s ABC Science. He and his colleagues think the genetic link between South American and Polynesian fowl found by archaeologist Alice Storey resulted from the contamination of the ancient Polynesian chicken bones with modern chicken DNA. “In chickens in particular we know that mitochondrial DNA doesn’t tell us anything about the past,” countered Storey.