> Study traces roots of turkey taming

Study traces roots of turkey taming

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Camilla Speller, 778.782.8164; 604.779.2302 (cell); cfspelle@sfu.ca
Dongya Yang, 778.782.4651; donyang@sfu.ca
Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.4323

February 2, 2010

The next time you sit down for a turkey dinner consider where the bird came from. You might be surprised to learn it has roots in the pre-Aztec world dating back 2,000 years.

Simon Fraser University archaeologists involved in a study of ancient turkey DNA found that turkeys were actually domesticated twice in North America.

According to the study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, both the pre-Aztec people in south-central Mexico and the ancestral Peubloans in the southwestern U.S. were raising domestic turkey stocks by 200 B.C.

The study involved a collaboration of SFU researchers studying ancient turkey bones and a research group from Washington State working on fossilized turkey dung.

Camilla Speller, the study’s lead author and a recent graduate working with SFU molecular archaeologist Dongya Yang, says extensive DNA testing allowed researchers to achieve new levels of detail and insight into how turkey stocks were managed and bred.

The teams’ DNA analysis included 149 turkey bones from ancient as well as present-day birds, including samples from a Vancouver Island turkey farm, and 29 fossilized dung samples. The ancient samples are from 38 archaeological sites.

DNA tests suggest that the ancestral Peubloans had also introduced wild turkeys into their stocks. Researchers found no genetic evidence that their breeds survived into the present day.

Speller says it appears likely that only the Aztec turkey breed survived and that present-day turkeys are derived from them. However there is a little more to it.

The Spanish who came to the New World took the turkeys back to Europe. There, they became popular and several varieties were developed before they were brought back and re-introduced in America.

Earlier studies found that Native Americans first raised the domestic turkeys for their feathers, used in rituals and ceremonies and to make blankets. “It wasn’t until around 1100 A.D. that domestic turkeys became an important food source,” Speller notes.

-30- (photos available for download at http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfupamr/)


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