THE DOMESTIC FOWL IN ANCIENT EGYPT

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SUMMARY

There is no recorded mention of the domestic fowl in Ancient Egypt before the Middle Kingdom (2134–1786 B.C.). Evidence for its existence there before this time is completely negative. The hieroglyph which is found in the earliest inscriptions, and certain peculiarities in the mention of the indeterminate birds, led some early writers to believe that the fowl had already been introduced into Ancient Egypt at the dawn of history, by invaders from Mesopotamia. The original of the hieroglyph however is almost certainly to be found in the Quail, and the wattled Sennar Guinea-fowl may have been depicted on some of early representations.

There is evidence from the Indus Valley Civilization of the presence of the fowl there 2500–1500 B.C. A widespread trade appears to have existed between India and Mesopotamia as early as the Agade period (c. 2340–2180 b.c.), and there is strong evidence to show that the fowl was known in Mesopotamia (c. 2200 b.c.), introduced by the sea-borne trade through the Persian Gulf, or by the longer and more dangerous caravan routes through what is now Baluchistan and Afghanistan. From Mesopotamia it probably found its way to Egypt by the land trade routes. The graffito of a cock was found on a Middle Kingdom temple dating to c. 1840 B.C., and another during excavation work on the tomb of Tut'ankhamon, dating 400 years later; while there is other evidence that during the XVIIIth Dynasty the cock was known in Egypt, such as in the Annals of King Thutmose III, where we have a reference to birds which bear each day, and a silver bowl of the reign of King Seti II (XIXth Dynasty) has a cock depicted on it. After this there is a long gap with no information, which may be explained in great part by internal decline, during which time trade suffered severely. During the Saite XXVIth Dynasty, which saw the beginning of a new period of expansion and revival, records re-appear. Not, however, till the Persian Conquest do we find numerous mentions of its presence throughout the Empire. Writers of much later days tended to attribute the origin of the domestic fowl to the Persians, in so far as it appears to have been they who were responsible for its widespread dispersal in trade, in great part due to their excellent road-building policy. The domestic fowl, however, fairly certainly came to Mesopotamia, and thence to Egypt, from India.

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