Turkey domestication began over 1,500 years ago

November 22, 2016, 8:05 a.m.
Wild turkey displaying
Photo: Bruce MacQueen/Shutterstock

New evidence from archaeological digs in Oaxaca, Mexico, sheds light on just how far back in history humans started domesticating turkeys. A clutch of domesticated turkey eggs used as a ritual offering around 1,500 years ago, along with bones of juvenile and adult turkeys, provides some of the earliest evidence of the domestication of this much-loved poultry species.

According to EurekAlert:

"Our research tells us that turkeys had been domesticated by 400-500 AD," explains Field Museum archaeologist Gary Feinman, one of the paper's authors. "People have made guesses about turkey domestication based on the presence or absence of bones at archaeological sites, but now we are bringing in classes of information that were not available before. We're providing strong evidence to confirm prior hypotheses." The results were published in an article in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

Beyond providing a new fun fact to share at Thanksgiving dinner, the findings help us to understand more about the Zapotec people and the importance of domesticated turkeys to their culture, as well as the story of animal domestication in Mesoamerica. It turns out this beloved North American bird has a long, long history alongside humans.