Brown hares and chickens introduced to Britain as ‘gods’ not food
Research led by the Universities of Exeter, Leicester and Oxford has discovered that upon their introduction to Britain, brown hares and chickens were viewed as ‘gods’ rather than food.
New radiocarbon dating on bones found in Hampshire and Hertfordshire shows the animals were brought to Britain earlier than previous estimates – in the Iron Age between the fifth and third century BC. Archaeological evidence suggests the animals were buried with care, revealing no signs of butchery on the remaining skeletons. In his De Bello Gallico, Julius Caesar states “The Britons consider it contrary to divine law to eat the hare, the chicken, or the goose.” It was not until the Roman period that these animals were farmed and eaten.
“Historical accounts have suggested chickens and hares were too special to be eaten and instead associated with deities.”Professor Naomi Sykes
The association of the animals with Easter has come about as a result of their ‘special status’. Professor Naomi Sykes, from the University of Exeter, explained that “historical accounts have suggested chickens and hares were too special to be eaten and instead associated with deities.”
However, as their population increased following the Roman period, their remains began to be disposed of as food waste rather than the remains of a sacred being. The transition of chickens into a central food source, associated with lent and Easter traditions, has been suggested to be in part due to Saint Benedict of the 16th century, who forbade consuming four-legged animals during fasting periods. Rabbits were also increasingly common in the 19th century when Easter traditions were reinvigorated.