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The Uncertain Origins of Mesoamerican Turkey Domestication

Abstract

The turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is the only domesticated vertebrate to originate from North America. Accurate reconstructions of the timing, location, and process of its domestication are thus critical for understanding the domestication process in the ancient Americas. A substantial amount of recent research has been devoted to understanding turkey domestication in the American Southwest, but comparatively little research has been conducted on the subject in Mesoamerica, despite the fact that all modern domestic turkeys descend from birds originally domesticated in Mexico during pre-colonial times. To address this disparity, we have conducted a review of the available literature on early turkeys in the archaeological record of Mesoamerica. We evaluate the evidence in terms of its accuracy and use this evaluation as a stepping off point for suggesting potential avenues of future research. Although the lack of available data from Mesoamerica currently precludes detailed cross-cultural comparisons, we briefly compare the origins and intensification of turkey rearing in Mesoamerica with the American Southwest to generate more dialogue among researchers independently studying the topic in these two distinct but interconnected cultural regions.

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Notes

  1. In Ornithology, standardized common names of species are capitalized.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the interlibrary loan staff at the University of Florida and Washington State University for helping us acquire many rare and difficult to obtain references. We are very grateful to our many collaborators, including Camilla Speller and John Krigbaum for coordinating genetic and isotopic analyses of Mesoamerican turkey specimens, as well as Rani Alexander, Charlotte Arnauld, Jamie Awe, Arthur Demarest, Antonia Foias, Charles Golden, Chris Götz, Elizabeth Graham, Norman Hammond, Richard Hansen, Gyles Ianonne, Takeshi Inomata, Marilyn Masson, Ray Matheny, Carlos Peraza, Andrew Scherer, and Norbert Stanchly who provided access to archaeological faunal collections during the process of our research. We also thank our graduate students Petra Cunningham Smith, Lisa Duffy, Brandon McIntosh, and Ashley Sharpe who assisted in various stages of the project. Funding for our ongoing research on Maya turkey husbandry is provided by the National Science Foundation (BCS-1434289), the Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, and the Washington State University Department of Anthropology.

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Thornton, E.K., Emery, K.F. The Uncertain Origins of Mesoamerican Turkey Domestication. J Archaeol Method Theory 24, 328–351 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-015-9269-4

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Keywords

  • Turkeys
  • Domestication
  • Mesoamerica
  • Maya
  • Preclassic