Unofficially, we are living in an era that some scientists call the Anthropocene epoch, due to the indelible impact humankind has made on the geology and ecology of the planet Earth. Our influence can be seen in areas such as our effect on the planet’s biodiversity, the warming of the Earth’s climate, the depositing of radioactive materials, and also in literal changes to the landscape — effects that are expected to affect the geological record for eons to come, as if humanity were a major geological event in of itself. But a group of researchers propose that what will truly stand out in the fossil record as the legacy of humankind will be none other than the bones of the humble chicken.
This research team, from the UK’s University of Leicester, University of Nottingham, Nottingham Trent University, and South Africa’s North West University, made an extensive study of the bones of domestic chickens, ranging from the ancient Roman pullus to the modern boiler chicken, and determined that the size and shape of modern chickens — now twice the size of their classical ancestors — is distinctive enough for it to be considered a marker species for the Anthropocene. Basically, these plucky dinosaur has-beens could be considered the poster animal for the modern human era.
In the 1950s, researchers started tinkering with the humble chicken to produce more meat per bird, to meet the growing popularity of chicken meat in post-war America. The eventual result of this selective breeding is what is termed as the "boiler chicken" (Gallus gallus domesticus), a chicken that is double the size of its medieval ancestor, and reaches its slaughter weight of 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lbs) in four to seven weeks — five times faster than its 1950s counterpart. The chicken has also become such a popular food source around the world that there are 23 billion individual birds alive at any given time, making it the most numerous land-based vertebrate on the planet, and the most numerous of any bird species in history.
Incapable of living outside their climate-controlled factory farms, these chickens are definitively a product of human engineering; their rapid weight gain also contributes to a poor bone structure that is part of their genetic makeup, and if left to live past their one-month slaughter date, these birds only last for another month before succumbing to heart or respiratory failure. Between the distinctive mark of an animal that has been artificially produced, and the sheer mass of chicken bones that have been piling up in our landfills for decades, future archaeologists might very well call our civilization the "Chicken Bone People".