Like pumpkins, squash and gourds, Turkeys were domesticated in the Americas in the pre-Columbian era, possibly near Oaxaca, Mexico, where I went on my honeymoon (a long, long time ago).
The turkeys we'll be sitting down to eat on Thursday have a history that goes way back. Archaeologists have unearthed a clutch of domesticated turkey eggs used as a ritual offering 1,500 years ago in Oaxaca, Mexico -- some of the earliest evidence of turkey domestication. . . ."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," says Feinman. "It helps to confirm historical information about the use of turkeys in the area."
The eggs, according to Feinman, were an offering of ritual significance to the Zapotec people. The Zapotec people still live in Oaxaca today, and domesticated turkeys remain important to them. "Turkeys are raised to eat, given as gifts, and used in rituals," says Feinman. "The turkeys are used in the preparation of food for birthdays, baptisms, weddings, and religious festivals."
The new information about when turkeys were domesticated helps amplify the bigger picture of animal domestication in Mesoamerica. "There were very few domesticated animals in Oaxaca and Mesoamerica in general compared with Eurasia," explains Feinman. "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."
The turkeys that are so important to the Zapotec today are similar birds to the ones that play a role in the American tradition of Thanksgiving. "These are not unlike the kinds of turkeys that would have been around at the first Thanksgiving, and similar to the birds that we eat today," says Feinman.From here. Based upon the following journal article:
Highlights• Mitla Fortress yields clear evidence for turkey domestication in southern Mexico.
• Domesticated turkeys were present in the Valley of Oaxaca by the mid Classic period (ca. CE 400–600).
• Turkeys were raised for subsistence, ritual offerings, and marketable goods.
• Remains include juvenile and adult birds (hens and toms), whole eggs, and numerous eggshell fragments at least one egg-laying hen present.
• SEM images of the eggshell reveals both unhatched and hatched eggs from a range of incubation stages.
Recent excavations of two domestic residences at the Mitla Fortress, dating to the Classic to Early Postclassic period (ca. CE 300–1200), have uncovered the remains of juvenile and adult turkeys (both hens and toms), several whole eggs, and numerous eggshell fragments in domestic refuse and ritual offering contexts. Holistically, this is the clearest and most comprehensive evidence to date for turkey domestication in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, Mexico. Juvenile turkeys range in age, from recently hatched poults to young juvenile birds. Medullary bone, which only forms in female birds before and during the egg-laying cycle, indicates the presence of at least one egg-laying hen. Scanning electron microscope (SEM) images of the eggshell reveals both unhatched and hatched eggs from a range of incubation stages, from unfertilized or newly fertilized eggs to eggs nearing the termination of embryogenesis to hatched poults. We present these new data and explore turkey husbandry, consumption, and use by two residential households at the Mitla Fortress.Heather A. Lapham, Gary M. Feinman, Linda M. Nicholas. "Turkey husbandry and use in Oaxaca, Mexico: A contextual study of turkey remains and SEM analysis of eggshell from the Mitla Fortress." Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (July 1, 2016)