Native Village
Youth and Education news
October 1, 2010, Volume

The Lost Turkeys of the New World
Condensed by Native Village

Mimbres pottery bowl, circa AD 1000-1200,

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 lost to posterity.

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 subspecies.

A new study shows that a single turkey breed prevailed for over 1,000 years among the southwest’s natives.

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 are gone.

“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,” .

The genetic relationships between North American wild and domestic turkeys/PNAS.
Southwestern turkeys are the gray circles;

Modern commercial turkeys occupy
the tiny, mostly-white mHap1 circle on the left.

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