Native Americans domesticated turkeys 1,500 yrs before New World discovery

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Washington, Feb 2 (ANI): In a new study, researchers have found that Native Americans had already domesticated turkeys twice more than 1,500 years before Christopher Columbus and his crew sailed to the New World.

According to a report in Discovery News, the two instances of the domestication of turkeys are in south-central Mexico at around 800 B.C. and again in what is now the southwestern U.S. at about 200 B.C.

The two instances of domestication appear to have been separate, based on DNA analysis of ancient turkey remains.

However, the different Native American groups could have been in contact with each other, sharing turkey-raising tips.

"Interestingly, the domestic turkeys were initially raised for their feathers, which were used in rituals and ceremonies, as well as to make feather robes or blankets," lead author Camilla Speller told Discovery News.

"Only later, around 1100 A.D., did the domestic turkeys become an important food source for the Ancestral Puebloans," she said.

Speller's colleague, Dongya Yang, said that the new study came together when two groups joined forces.

Their group was busy studying ancient turkey bones, while another research team from Washington State University was analyzing early turkey coprolites, that is, fossilized dung from the birds.

The scientists combined their efforts for the study, which involved DNA analysis of 149 turkey bones and 29 coprolites from 38 different archaeological sites.

Speller said that their investigations revealed that pre-Aztec people around south-central Mexico first domesticated turkeys.

The birds appear to either have either been penned or "allowed to roam around the village," according to Speller.

The southwestern turkeys, on the other hand, "were raised by the Ancestral Puebloans who lived on the Colorado Plateau, around the Four Corners region of the southwest United States," Speller said.

These Puebloans, also known as the Anasazi, appear to have not only raised domestic turkeys, but also incorporated local wild turkeys into their domestic stocks, according to Yang.

DNA tests determined that the southwestern domestic turkey breed probably is most closely related to the eastern and Rio Grande wild turkeys that are still found in the U.S. today.

It is possible, however, that the original southwestern domestic breed has since become extinct.

"It seems that only the Aztec turkey breed survived into the present day," Speller said.

"It's fascinating to think that the turkeys that we eat today were ultimately descended form the turkey breeds raised by the Aztecs," she added. (ANI)

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