top of page

Wild about turkey

Archaeologists find that Ancestral Pueblo people in the North American Southwest managed wild turkeys (Meleagris Gallopavo spp.) for more than 1,600 years.

Cyler Conrad of the University of New Mexico examined both sites and archaeological finds from the Southwest and northwestern Mexico in pursuit of this management. He searched for evidence of turkey pens, mainly from concentrations of their droppings and dung in the soil, and for evidence for captivity over the centuries. The word ‘management’ means birds kept in pens. In some instances, Conrad found that turkeys were penned in rooms built specifically for the purpose, alternatively in spaces originally used for something else.

For example, at Pueblo Bonito Pueblo in Chaco Canyon, one of the most elaborate ancient pueblos, turkeys were kept in a room adjacent to Room 28. The latter was used to store cylindrical jars for consuming cacao – the earliest known evidence for chocolate consumption in the United States. Later on, turkeys were even kept in Room 28 itself, once the storage place for ritual vessels.

This proves that turkey management included shifting the locations of pens as circumstances changed. People also allowed the turkeys to wander free-range, while others were kept tethered, or in small cages. Apart from the wild foods consumed by free-range birds, Ancestral Pueblo turkeys also ate domesticated maize. Turkeys provided feathers and flesh, bones and eggs, even raw materials for whistles and other instruments. Their remains contributed to blankets, costumes, and art. Like other birds, turkeys probably played special and significant relationships in Pueblo society.

bottom of page