Some animals are somehow paradoxical: well impressed in the collective imaginary of the recent past, they might be nonetheless soon removed from our memory. Among these, the black francolin (Francolinus francolinus; BF), a pheasant-like bird known as Attagen in the Classic Age, is an exemplary case. Presently distributed from Cyprus and the Middle East eastwards to the Indian subcontinent, the BF was also found in Italy and Spain till the XIXth c., yet its nativeness to such areas was dubious. Long regarded as a renowned delicacy, the meat of this bird was also thought to possess medical and even aphrodisiac properties. For this reason, the BF was hold in high regard by the aristocracy in Medieval and Renaissance Europe as courtly gamebird. This is well documented by the severe bans restricting hunting of this bird to ruling elites enacted in Spain, Sicily and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany during the XVth c. onwards, with penalties ranging from exorbitant fines to even corporal punishment. Traditionally hunted by falconry, the BF is mentioned in a number of letters exchanged by rulers both in Italy and Spain that point to the relevance of this species as symbol of wealth and prestige. Interestingly, the species is portrayed as valuable game in a number of still life paintings realized in Italy and Spain during the XVIIth c. When the strict protection ceased, the BF rapidly became extinct in the western Mediterranean due to uncontrolled harvest and land reclamation, notwithstanding the belated attempts to save the species with the offer of cash prices for people who protected nests and broods. Here we present a multidisciplinary study relying on a thorough historical documentation and an extensive DNA analysis of modern and archival specimens (mtDNA Control Region gene; n = 281) aimed at unveiling the origin of the BF in the western Mediterranean and, at the same time, rescuing the memory of this prized bird from oblivion. Our data targeted the species as nonnative to the western Mediterranean, pointing to the occurrence of geographically distinct genetic stocks. If, on the one hand, the invoked importation from Cyprus during the Crusades was confirmed on a molecular basis, on the other hand strong evidences for importations from southern Asia through long-distance trade routes emerged. Noteworthy, this finding shed further light on the major role played by Portuguese merchants in satisfying the demand for exotic species at European courts and, more generally, on the sometimes neglected involvement of human-mediated species dispersal in shaping present-day biodiversity.

The Black Francolin. Food for gourmets, game for nobles, lust for lovers: reawakening the memory and assessing the origin of a prized courtly bird.

GUERRINI, MONICA;BARBANERA, FILIPPO
2016

Abstract

Some animals are somehow paradoxical: well impressed in the collective imaginary of the recent past, they might be nonetheless soon removed from our memory. Among these, the black francolin (Francolinus francolinus; BF), a pheasant-like bird known as Attagen in the Classic Age, is an exemplary case. Presently distributed from Cyprus and the Middle East eastwards to the Indian subcontinent, the BF was also found in Italy and Spain till the XIXth c., yet its nativeness to such areas was dubious. Long regarded as a renowned delicacy, the meat of this bird was also thought to possess medical and even aphrodisiac properties. For this reason, the BF was hold in high regard by the aristocracy in Medieval and Renaissance Europe as courtly gamebird. This is well documented by the severe bans restricting hunting of this bird to ruling elites enacted in Spain, Sicily and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany during the XVth c. onwards, with penalties ranging from exorbitant fines to even corporal punishment. Traditionally hunted by falconry, the BF is mentioned in a number of letters exchanged by rulers both in Italy and Spain that point to the relevance of this species as symbol of wealth and prestige. Interestingly, the species is portrayed as valuable game in a number of still life paintings realized in Italy and Spain during the XVIIth c. When the strict protection ceased, the BF rapidly became extinct in the western Mediterranean due to uncontrolled harvest and land reclamation, notwithstanding the belated attempts to save the species with the offer of cash prices for people who protected nests and broods. Here we present a multidisciplinary study relying on a thorough historical documentation and an extensive DNA analysis of modern and archival specimens (mtDNA Control Region gene; n = 281) aimed at unveiling the origin of the BF in the western Mediterranean and, at the same time, rescuing the memory of this prized bird from oblivion. Our data targeted the species as nonnative to the western Mediterranean, pointing to the occurrence of geographically distinct genetic stocks. If, on the one hand, the invoked importation from Cyprus during the Crusades was confirmed on a molecular basis, on the other hand strong evidences for importations from southern Asia through long-distance trade routes emerged. Noteworthy, this finding shed further light on the major role played by Portuguese merchants in satisfying the demand for exotic species at European courts and, more generally, on the sometimes neglected involvement of human-mediated species dispersal in shaping present-day biodiversity.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11568/825168
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