Native Americans tamed turkeys in 800 B.C.

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More than 1,500 years before Christopher Columbus and his crew sailed to the New World, Native Americans had already domesticated turkeys twice: first in south-central Mexico at around 800 B.C. and again in what is now the southwestern U.S. at about 200 B.C., according to a new study.

The two instances of domestication appear to have been separate, based on DNA analysis of ancient turkey remains. However, the different Native American groups could have been in contact with each other, sharing turkey-raising tips.

While turkeys today conjure up thoughts of bountiful roast meat meals and deli sandwiches, Native Americans were not driven by their dinner needs, according to the study, published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Interestingly, the domestic turkeys were initially raised for their feathers, which were used in rituals and ceremonies, as well as to make feather robes or blankets," lead author Camilla Speller told Discovery News. "Only later, around 1100 A.D., did the domestic turkeys become an important food source for the Ancestral Puebloans."

Speller's colleague, Dongya Yang, said the new study came together when two groups joined forces. Their group was busy studying ancient turkey bones, while another research team from Washington State University was analyzing early turkey coprolites, i.e. fossilized dung from the birds.

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