Ancient Maya Domesticated Wild Turkey 2300 Years Ago
Zooarchaeologists at the University of Florida have found that the wild turkey was domesticated by the ancient Maya more than 1,000 years earlier than previously believed.
Published online in the journal PLoS ONE, the discovery of the turkey bones at an ancient Mayan archaeological site in Guatemala provides evidence of domestication, usually a significant mark of civilization, and the earliest evidence of the Mexican turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, in the Maya world.
“The discovery of the turkey bones is significant because the Maya did not use a lot of domesticated animals. While they cultivated domesticated plants, most of their animal protein came mostly from wild resources,” said lead author Dr Erin Thornton, a research associate at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
“We might have gotten the timing of the introduction of this species to the ancient Maya wrong by a significant chunk of time,” Dr Thornton said. “The species originates from central Mexico, outside the Maya cultural area. This is the species the Europeans brought back with them to Europe – all domestic turkeys originated from Mexico.”
Using archaeological evidence, comparisons of bone structure and ancient DNA analysis, the scientists determined the turkey fossils belonged to the non-local species Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo, which is native to central and northern Mexico…
info: Thornton et al. 2012. Earliest Mexican Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) in the Maya Region: Implications for Pre-Hispanic Animal Trade and the Timing of Turkey Domestication. PLoS ONE 7(8): e42630; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042630