Over the last decade the study of chicken in the archaeological context has received increased attention. Most published studies have focused on a number of core subjects: the identification of the chicken’s wild ancestor,1 its spread from Asia to Europe,2 the earliest introductions of it into Europe3 and the first evidence of intense economic exploitation.4 It is commonly accepted that the domestic chicken originated from the red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus), which was first domesticated in eastern Asia, perhaps through multiple, independent domestication events.5 The timing of the initial domestication, as well as its spread to the Middle East and Europe, is still unclear. In Italy, chicken remains are mentioned in contexts as early as the ninth century BC, although these require verification.6 By the sixth century BC, however, the occurrence of chicken in Italy is clearly attested.7 In the Classical period, domestic fowl (Gallus domesticus) is often associated with funerary and ritual contexts. The gradual increase of its archaeological representation from the fourth century BC to the sixth century AD,8 indicates that chickens only became widespread in the Roman period, when they began to be exploited as a valuable meat source. This increase is also expressed in a number of well-known literary sources. Roman authors, such as Columella and Pliny the Elder (first century AD), mention the occurrence of a diversity of chicken breeds and management practices. Although chicken was exploited as a source of food in the Middle Ages, there are no medieval written sources detailing the husbandry practices adopted at that time in Italy. Shifts in size throughout the Middle Ages, likely linked to differential management strategies, have been identified in Rome.9 This could indicate the occurrence of changes in human-chicken interactions from the Early to the Late Middle Ages in Italy. This paper aims to investigate husbandry practices adopted at rural and urban sites in Central Italy and the importance of chicken in the Central Italian medieval food economy.
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