What is the Southeastern U.S. Ancient Turkey Project?
Traditionally, turkeys found at archaeological sites in the Southeast are thought to be the remains of meals served and eaten long ago, with the birds having been killed in the wild by ancient hunters. We agree that many of these turkey bones are probably refuse left from ancient meals. However, based on our data and studies from other parts of the Americas, we suspect that the people at Fewkes (and other late prehistoric sites in the Southeastern US) had a relationship with turkeys that was more complex than we previously thought. It is highly likely that people were managing wild turkey populations, possibly to the point these turkeys were domesticated, or at least on the brink of it.
Here is the abstract from our soon to be published paper in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports [Archaeological Correlates of Population Management of the Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) with a Case Study from the American South, by Tanya M. Peres and Kelly L. Ledford, Florida State University]
The wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) was an important food resource to Precolumbian Native Americans; however, little attention has been given to the subject of turkey husbandry, or use in the American Southeast. We thus present demographic turkey data from the Mississippian Period Fewkes site in Tennessee, ethnographic and ethnohistoric information on Southeastern Native Americans, and material culture data from Tennessee and Alabama to explore the use and potential management of eastern wild turkeys (M. gallopavo silvestris). The osteometric data from the Fewkes site indicates that both male and female adult turkeys are represented in the faunal assemblage, with males being present in equal or greater numbers than females. It appears that the female specimens were not taken during the egg-laying period. The results can be interpreted as either the result of humans managing local turkey populations as sources of both meat and feathers, or occasional selective hunting of large adult males.
Peres, Tanya M., and Kelly L. Ledford
2016 Archaeological Correlates of Population Management of the Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) with a Case Study from the American South. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2016.11.014
(*If you would like a copy of this paper, you can download it here.)
Here is a blog post Dr. Peres an Kelly Ledford (FSU Anthropology MSc Student) wrote about this project for the “30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology” blogfest.
Southeastern U.S. Ancient Turkey Project in the News!
International Business Times (with Thanksgiving fun facts)
How can you contribute to the project?
We are community sourcing zoorchaeological, osteometric, and metadata on the archaeological occurrences of turkey in the Southeastern U. S. If you have turkey in a collection you are working, would you be willing to take a few extra minutes to measure all measurable elements and/or partial elements, and enter corresponding data into our Google Form? Your contribution to this project will be acknowledged!
What parts can be measured and how does one do it?
-Measurements are standardized. You can look at these relevant pages from
What else do you need?
– You need a pair of calipers, preferably digital, that read to 0.01 mm.
– Connection to the internet to use the Southeastern US Ancient Turkey Google Form.
About the header photo: Hixon style marine shell gorget with turkey cock motif, ca. AD 1200-1350, East Tennessee.