ARAUCANA Project

Call for collaborations on zooarchaeological and ancient DNA analysis
of Neotropical American chickens

The ARAUCANA Project – ‘Archaeological and Anthropological Unravelling of Chickens using ancient DNA in Neotropical America’ – is a new research project co-led by Dr Ophélie Lebrasseur, Dr Pablo Fernández and Prof Ludovic Orlando between the Centre for Anthropobiology and Genomics of Toulouse, CNRS/UT3, France (CAGT) and the National Institute of Latin American Anthropology and Thought, Argentina (INAPL). It is funded by the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions.


Nestled within a One Health framework, ARAUCANA will combine zooarchaeology, genomics and anthropology to explore the cultural and genetic history of chickens in Neotropical America (comprising the Caribbean, Central and South America) from their introduction on the continent to the present day. We are actively seeking collaborators for this research project, and encourage any interested parties to get in touch!


Background

Neotropical America contributes over a fifth to global poultry production, yet chickens arrived on the continent relatively recently about 500 years ago. Though details surrounding their European and Polynesian introductions and dispersals throughout Neotropical America remain unclear, chickens have adapted to the diverse local environments and infectious diseases, and are now well-embedded within the continent’s numerous cultures. ARAUCANA aims to investigate the introduction and spread of chickens, as well as the evolution of authentic indigenous traits linked to phenotypes, environmental adaptation, disease resistance and productivity by characterising the past genetic diversity of Neotropical American chicken populations through time, combined with a comprehensive review of these birds’ relationships with local cultures. Our research will shine new light on the cultural and biological heritage of these domestic birds, whilst informing conservation measures, breed development programs, and food security and safety.

Part 1 – Cultural and Genetic History

Prior to DNA sampling, a detailed zooarchaeological record of the bones will be undertaken, including measurements, photos and surface scans. We will subsequently conduct an initial sequencing round to assess DNA preservation. Provided sufficient endogenous DNA content, this data will – for most individuals – allow us to determine:

  • Species Identification
  • Biological Sex
  • Mitochondrial Genetic Diversity

Through joint input from our team and our collaborators, the zooarchaeological and genetic data is expected to feed back into the wider archaeological context of the site and region, with a particular focus on the dispersal and integration of chickens within these local societies. We aim for this joint collaboration to result in a co-authored publication, either as a stand-alone paper, or as part of a wider zooarchaeological assessment of the site or region depending on our collaborators’ wishes.
For an example of the type of article, see Lebrasseur, O. et al. (2021) A Zooarchaeological and Molecular Assessment of Ancient Chicken Remains from Russia, The Volga River Region Archaeology, 1(35):216-231


Part 2 – Evolutionary History

For the genetics-focused studies on evolutionary history, samples with sufficient DNA preservation will have their whole genome sequenced, whilst we will target mutations and/or genomic regions of interest for remaining ‘promising’ samples. This data will help address selected questions such as:

  • Ancestry
  • Phenotype
  • Local Environmental Adaptation
  • Resistance to Local Diseases

Primarily led by our team but with crucial input from our collaborators, this genetic data will characterise the evolution of the genetic make-up of local chicken populations through time throughout Neotropical America, as well as key genes underlying local environmental adaptation, disease resistance and productivity traits. This will result in a co-authored publication.

Part 3 – Exploratory Work on Pathogens

Finally, we will conduct an exploratory assessment of pathogens present in the samples based on the initial sequencing round. If pathogens of interest are identified and provided sufficient DNA preservation, targeted capture sequencing will be undertaken, allowing the following questions to be explored:

  • Past health of chickens
  • Health and lifestyles of ancient societies
  • Past demography of a pathogen
  • Evolutionary history of a pathogen

The results will be jointly interpreted and co-authored between our team, and our archaeology and epidemiology collaborators.

What are we looking for?

  • Chicken bone assemblages from across the Caribbean, Central and South America for zooarchaeological assessment. All time periods welcome.
  • Any element for ancient DNA analyses, with a preference for tibiotarsus and coracoid (please note these are destructive analyses). All time periods welcome.

Not sure if you have chickens in your assemblage?

If you are in possession of a faunal assemblage which you suspect may contain chicken bones but don’t have the expertise to confirm their identification, please do get in touch. It may be possible for us to come and conduct the identification for you (whenever travel is once again allowed).

No chickens at your site?

If you have been conducting zooarchaeological research on sites dating from the past 600 years but have no evidence for the presence of chickens, we would still like to hear from you. This type of information can help us map the dispersal of chickens throughout Neotropical America based on their presence/absence at known sites. For more information on the project, timings and sampling protocols, or if you would like to discuss potential collaboration agreements or samples, please get in touch at adna.araucanaproject@gmail.com

Many thanks and looking forward to hearing from you, ARAUCANA Project Team

Coracoid from the 18th century site of Santa Catalina, Argentina, (C) O.Lebrasseur/M.Lanza

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 895107. @AraucanaProject araucana_project Araucana Project

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