© Photo courtesy of the Museum of Peoples and Cultures, Brigham Young University
North face of the Jaguar Paw Temple, in the Tigre Complex at El Mirador, Guatemala, showing the east mask, stairway, and upper landing during excavations by Project El Mirador. Most of the Preclassic turkey bones were associated with this building.
The bones of Mexican turkeys discovered at a Mayan archaeological site in Guatemala may push back the domestication of this gobbler by 1,000 years, researchers say.
The find is also the oldest evidence for a Mexican turkey (Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo
) in the Mayan world
, with signs that the bones are the remains of an elite sacrifice
or a feast, said lead researcher Erin Thornton, of the Florida Museum of Natural History and Trent University Archaeological Research Centre in Ontario.
"I did not expect to find Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo
at the site as the species is not local to the Maya area," Thornton said. "The birds were likely traded in."
Turkeys served important roles for the Maya, including for food and sacrificial offerings
. Their feathers, bones and other byproducts were often used to make medicines, musical instruments, personal adornments and tools. However, until this discovery, scientists assumed the Maya only used the native, wild ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata
) throughout the Preclassic to Classic period that ended in A.D. 1000.