The Lost Turkeys of the New World
Condensed by Native Village
Mimbres pottery bowl, circa AD
The ancestors of today's turkeys
were first domesticated and bred by
the Aztecs 2,700 years ago,
But they weren’t the only turkey
tamers: Native peoples in today's
American southwest had their own
prize breeds, now
Until now, it was assumed that all
domesticated turkeys came from the
Aztec-bred lineage. However, DNA
from ancient bones and droppings in
America's southwest shows that
turkeys there were a very different
A new study shows that a single
turkey breed prevailed for over
1,000 years among the southwest’s
The study is published in the
Proceedings of the National Academy.
In the 1400s, Spanish Conquistadors
took Aztec turkeys back to Europe.
The popular birds were bred with
local subspecies, then reintroduced
to North America by colonial
settlers in 1600s. As the settlers’
moved west, so did their birds,
which inbred with native turkeys.
Today, those colonial turkeys have
become the industrial giants of
Thanksgiving fame. As for native
southwestern turkeys, the originals
“We have no genetic evidence that
these breeds survived into the
present day,” said study co-author
Dongya Yang, a Simon Fraser
University archaeologist. "It is
quite likely that the indigenous
Mesoamerican turkey breeds still
survive in rural Mexico,” .
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