Stone Age humans hatched and raised cassowary chicks in New Guinea
BBC Focus - Science & Technology|November 2021
Thousands of years before the domestication of the chicken, humans were collecting cassowary eggs before they hatched

Up to 18,000 years ago, humans in New Guinea were hatching cassowary chicks and may have raised them to adulthood, a new study has found. This suggests that chickens may not in fact have been the first domesticated birds.

Cassowaries are big, flightless birds native to Australia, the Aru Islands in Indonesia, and New Guinea.

This is not some small fowl, it is a huge, ornery, flightless bird that can eviscerate you, . said co-author Kristina Douglass, assistant professor of anthropology and African studies, Penn State.

The chicks are still traded as a commodity in New Guinea today, and will easily imprint on humans. If the first thing a chick sees is a human, it will follow them around as though they were its mother.

The researchers studied eggshells from between 18,000 and 6,000 years ago to determine how old the chicks inside were when they were cracked.

Developing chicks get calcium from their eggshells, with pits appearing on the inside of the shell during later stages. By studying the shells, the scientists established that the large majority of the eggs were harvested during the late stages of development.

While it's possible they were eating baluts - an Asian street food that involves boiling a near-developed chick in its shell - many of the samples didn't show any evidence of burn marks, suggesting that the eggs were hatched.

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