Prehistoric Turkey Husbandry

Emily Lena Jones is an assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, Cyler Conrad is a Ph.D. graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, and Seth Newsome is an assistant professor of Biology at the University of New Mexico. This post describes their collaborative research at the UNM Center for Stable Isotopes on prehistoric turkey husbandry in the American Southwest.

Maize Fed or Wild Diet?

Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) were used for a variety of economic purposes in the prehistoric American Southwest (Lang and Harris 1984). Turkeys were eaten; their feathers were used for blanket production; and their eggs were both consumed for food and used as binders in paint tempera formation. Ancient DNA evidence indicates prehistoric Southwesterners made use of both the wild Merrriam’s turkey (Meleagris gallopavo merriami) and a domestic turkey, which was genetically distinct from both Merriam’s and the Mexican domestic turkey (Speller et al. 2010).

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Figure 1. A male Merriam’s turkey displaying for a female hen in South Dakota (Image from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://bit.ly/1zD3DAV)

Previous stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope studies of Southwestern turkeys suggest that prehistorically, turkeys were predominately fed maize (Kellner et al. 2010; McCaffery et al. 2014; Rawlings and Driver 2010). Maize is a C4 plant, and the turkey bones so far sampled display a strong C4 signal (Figure 2).

Stable Isotope Research

Figure 2. Bone collagen data from turkeys in five different sites throughout the American Southwest. Note range of dates and cluster of isotope data near -12‰, suggesting a predominantly maize diet. [a]-Kellner et al. 2010 [b]-Rawlings and Driver 2010 [c]-McCaffery et al. 2014
Figure 2. Bone collagen data from turkeys in five different sites throughout the American Southwest. Note range of dates and cluster of isotope data near -12‰, suggesting a predominantly maize diet. [a]-Kellner et al. 2010 [b]-Rawlings and Driver 2010 [c]-McCaffery et al. 2014

Although previous studies have shown a remarkably consistent picture of turkey husbandry, the sample size from these studies is still relatively small.In addition, most of these studies have focused on sites in the Four Corners region or in Northern New Mexico. We are working to expand this sample to include turkeys from sites from the Middle Rio Grande Valley as well as more sites from high elevations or other “marginal” areas. We are analyzing both turkey bone collagen and apatite to understand the spacing and relationship between organic and inorganic isotope systems (Figure 3). Our data, from sites including Tijeras Pueblo (LA 581), Arroyo Hondo Pueblo (LA 12), and Chamisal Pueblo (LA 22765), suggests a more complex pattern of turkey husbandry practices than has been previously documented for the American Southwest. Within at least some contexts there appears to be a mix of maize-fed and wild-diet turkeys. We look forward to processing more samples and sharing our results in future publications and posts!

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Figure 3. Turkey bone specimens from Tijeras Pueblo being sonicated after emersion in a bath of 2:1 chloroform/methanol for lipid removal and collagen purification

 

References

Kellner, Corina M., Margaret J. Schoeninger, Katherine Spielmann and Katherine Moore. 2010. Stable Isotope Data Show Temporal Stability in Diet at Pecos Pueblo and Diet Variation among Southwest Pueblos. In Morgan, Michèle E. (ed.) Pecos Pueblo Revisited: The Biological and Social Context. Cambridge, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Lang, Richard and Arthur Harris. 1984. The Faunal Remains From Arroyo Hondo Pueblo, New Mexico: A Study in Short- Term Subsistence Change. Santa Fe, School of American Research Press.

McCaffery, Harlan, Robert H. Tykot, Kathy Durand Gore and Beau R. DeBoer. 2014. Stable Isotope Analysis of Turkey (Meleagris Gallopavo) Diet from Pueblo II and Pueblo III Sties, Middle San Juan Region, Northwest New Mexico. American Antiquity 79(2): 337-352.

Rawlings, Tiffany A. and Jonathan C. Driver. 2010. Paleodiet of domestic turkey, Shields Pueblo (5MT3807), Colorado: isotopic analysis and its implications for care of a household domesticate. Journal of Archaeological Science 37: 2433-2441.

Speller, Camilla F., Brian M. Kemp, Scott D. Wyatt, Cara Monroe, William D. Lipe, Ursula M. Arndt and Dongya Y. Yang. 2010. Ancient mitochondrial DNA analysis reveals complexity of indigenous North American turkey domestication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107(7): 2807-2812.

Chickens from Beyond the Grave

We’re continuing our series of posts this month with a piece by Elizabeth Farebrother, who is currently working towards her PhD at University College London investigating changing animal use in Western Asia during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. Here, she shares her MSc research, which was part of the ongoing, multidisciplinary Chicken Project. Thanks to Liz and the Chicken Project Team for contributing!


An Integrated Faunal-centric approach to Stable Isotope Analysis at Wien-Csokorgasse Cemetery   

The integration of zooarchaeological research and stable isotope analysis can be incredibly insightful, allowing us to go beyond traditional research questions, and investigate, where relevant, socially-grounded questions from a scientific perspective. My introduction to the world of stable isotope research came through the AHRC-funded Chicken Project, and my MSc formed part of this ongoing collaborative research initiative to investigate human-fowl interaction.

Belle, a Nottingham local
Belle, a Nottingham local.

Wien-Csokorgasse – an Avar-period (6th-8th Century AD) cemetery site – is located in Vienna, Austria, and was excavated as a rescue operation in the 1970s. Zooarchaeologist Henriette Kroll carried out the faunal analysis for the site, and noted that the deposition of chickens within human burial contexts was both sexually, and hierarchically stratified; cocks were buried with males and hens were buried with females. Significantly, the length of each cockerel’s tarsometatarsus spur also corresponded with the inferred status of the human burial (Kroll, 2013).

Chicken bone is demineralised in order to extract the collagen for isotopic analysis.
Chicken bone is demineralised in order to extract the collagen for isotopic analysis.

To investigate the potential reasons for the inclusion of chickens within burials at Wien-Csokorgasse, carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios from the bone collagen of each bird were analysed and compared with the existing stable isotope study of the humans they were buried with (Herold, 2008). Prospective indicators for dietary differentiation, including biological sex, age, and cemetery chronology were explored. Perhaps the most striking result was the dietary correlation represented by δ15N values. This dietary signature would have built up in the bone collagen over differing life spans between human and chicken. To this end, the data suggest a significant overlapping period of time where each chicken may have lived alongside the human individual they were buried with.

Preliminary carbon and nitrogen isotope results for human burials and associated chickens.
Preliminary carbon and nitrogen isotope results for human burials and associated chickens.

The results of dietary stable isotope analysis were viewed through the lens of anthropological analogy, and interpretation included a diachronic survey of published and grey literature of contemporary bird iconography and bird diet in Europe. This meant that the wider social implications and behavioural patterns amongst the groups who used Wien-Csokorgasse were also considered in the study.

Acknowledgements:

Thank you to all involved in the production of this MSc dissertation. This study would not have been possible without the help and expert guidance of the AHRC-funded Chicken Project, Dr Naomi Sykes, Dr Holly Miller, Dr Henriette Kroll, the NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory (BGS Keyworth) and the University of Nottingham.

References

Herold, M. (2008) ‘Sex Differences in Mortality in Lower Austria and Vienna in the Early Medieval Period’ Doctoral dissertation, University of Vienna.

Kroll, H. (2013) ‘Ihrer Hühner waren drei und ein stolzer Hahn dabei: Überlegungen zur Beigabe von Hühnern im awarischen Gräberfeld an der Wiener Csokorgasse.’ in von Carnap-Bornheim, C., Dörfler, W., Kirleis, W., Müller, J. and Müller, U. (eds.) Festschrift für Helmut Johannes Kroll. Offa 69/70.