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Thursday, October 21, 2021

The history of turkey is the story of Mexico

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Turkeys at a pyramid in the Mayan ruins of Tikal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Guatemala. Photo: Getty

The Mexican turkey is the ancestor of all domestic turkeys consumed in the world today.

We’re always learning more about the role of Mexico in domesticating the turkey — eaten year round in Yucatán, not just on Thanksgiving.

The bones discovered a few years back at the El Mirador archaeological site shows animal exchange occurred in the Maya region during the Late Preclassic period from 300 BC to 100 CE.

More correctly, there’s no bird more wholly American than the wild turkey, native only to North and Central America. But its history is not widely known.

So for Turkey Day, here are a few giblets of history, courtesy of the Houston Chronicle:

The turkey so many will feast upon today is a direct descendent of wild turkeys first domesticated in central Mexico as long as 2,000 years ago.

A subspecies designated Meleagris gallopavo was the southernmost of six subspecies of wild turkey ranging southern Mexico to southern Canada.

Spanish conquistadores found a thriving domestic turkey population among the Aztecs, Maya and other indigenous people, and in the early 1500s shipped some back to Spain. From there, the domestic birds were taken across Europe and the beyond, selectively bred to produce the variety of fowl we know today.

The Meleagris gallopavo, the wild turkey subspecies from which today’s countless domestic turkeys sprung, is extinct in the wild today.

But turkeys are still hunted on the Peninsula. Colorful ocellated turkeys live in the forests. Hunters arrive before sunrise, waiting in the dark and listening intently for the low-pitched song of the male who drums his wings and makes uniquely beautiful sounds:

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