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Thanksgiving 2016: Archaeologists Unearth Evidence of Turkey Domestication in Mexico 1500 Years Ago

Nov 23, 2016 03:30 AM EST

Thanksgiving is soon approaching, but have you ever wondered when turkeys were first domesticated? Archaeologists from the Field Museum have discovered the first evidence of domestication as offerings 1,500 years ago.

According to the study published in Journal of Archaeological Science, the archaeologists have unearthed a clutch of turkey eggs in Oaxaca, Mexico. These eggs were believed to have been used as offerings, estimating the time of domestication at around 400-500 AD.

"Our research tells us that turkeys had been domesticated by 400-500 AD. People have made guesses about turkey domestication based on the presence or absence of bones at archaeological sites, but now we are bringing in classes of information that were not available before. We're providing strong evidence to confirm prior hypotheses," Gary Feinman, an archaeologist from the Field Museum, told Science Daily.

Oaxaca Mexico is home to the Zapotec people thousands of years ago. Feinman told Science Daily that lead author Heather Lapham was the one who found the five intact and unhatched turkey eggs. They were found along with tiny bones from hatched baby turkeys.

Turkeys play a key role for the Zapotec people even today. These animals are not only used as offerings but are domesticated and raised for food during special occasions such as birthdays, weddings and religious festivals, as well as for gits and rituals.

"The fact that we see a full clutch of unhatched turkey eggs, along with other juvenile and adult turkey bones nearby, tells us that these birds were domesticated. It helps to confirm historical information about the use of turkeys in the area," Feinman said.

The new discovery gives clearer clues on animal domestication in Mesoamerica as there is little known about it compared to Eurasia.

"Eurasia had lots of different meat sources, but in Oaxaca 1,500 years ago, the only assuredly domestic meat sources were turkeys and dogs. And while people in Oaxaca today rely largely on meat from animals brought over by the Spanish (like chicken, beef, and pork), turkeys have much greater antiquity in the region and still have great ritual as well as economic significance today," Feinman said.

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