A huge £2 million grant for university eggheads to study humans’ relationship with chickens ruffled feathers today, with campaigners blasting it as “absurd”.
The cash will pay for six universities to examine the cultural significance of the bird. The three-year project, starting in January, will see students travelling to Cuba and Ethiopia to look at how people interact with chickens.
Robert Oxley of The TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “This is frankly an absurd sum of money to spend on what appears to be a ridiculous study. Research like this should be way down the pecking order for taxpayer-funded grants.” The study will be led by Bournemouth University, Dorset.
The Arts and Humanities Research Council, behind the grant, said: “There are over 20 billion chickens worldwide, yet we know very little about their social and cultural history.”
Boffins are planning to examine when domesticated chickens spread across Europe and the history of their exploitation for meat and eggs. They will also investigate the ancient and modern cultural significance of the birds and will study chicken bones to look at the development of specific breeds.
Project leader Mark Maltby, reader in archaeology at Bournemouth, said: “It may be a large grant but it is a component set of grants that will be split between the universities involved. “And what we uncover about chickens may lead us to find out more of a wider history about the people keeping them.
“For example, we have knowledge about medieval times and the banquets that were held by rich people with elaborate food but that’s not what common people were doing. This is a fantastic opportunity to work with a team of high international esteem drawn from a wide range of disciplines.”