Enfilade

Happy Thanksgiving

Posted in anniversaries by Editor on November 22, 2012

On this Thanksgiving Holiday (at least a holiday for Americans), I thought readers might enjoy a bit of history of the turkey in North America. Bonny Wolf recently reported on wild turkeys at National Public Radio for Weekend Edition Sunday (11 November 2012). The final sentences stood out for me:

Tureen with Cover in the form of a Turkey, Florsheim Factory, Germany, ca. 1750, Tin-enameled earthenware, 6 x 10 inches (NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Oddly, the ancestors of most supermarket turkeys are from Mexico. The Spanish took them to Europe in the 1500s, and the birds became popular all over the continent. When English settlers came to America, they brought turkeys back to the New World. Those are the turkeys that were developed into today’s commercial varieties, completing the turkey’s roundtrip.

The linked source for the claim comes from a 2010 article, “Ancient Mitochondrial DNA Analysis Reveals Complexity of Indigenous North American Turkey Domestication,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Fascinating. Global eighteenth-century indeed.

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I’m in no position to vouch for the scholarly credibility of the following article, but it’s also interesting. James Earl and Mary C. Kennamer and Ron Brenneman provide a “History of the Wild Turkey in North America,” for the NWTF Wildlife Bulletin (yes, of course, there’s a National Wild Turkey Federation) . . .

The Europeans were familiar with guinea fowl, and peafowl, but then their explorers found a New World bird similar to, but not exactly like, what they were used to seeing. Those early explorers often wrote of finding guinea and peafowl–type birds. Their descriptions though were later determined to be of a new bird soon known as the wild turkey. Even Linnaeus, who proposed the scientific name Meleagris gallopavo in 1758, used names reminiscent of the earlier confusion. The genus name Meleagris means “guinea fowl,” from the ancient Greco–Romans. The species name gallopavo is Latin for “peafowl” of Asia (gallus for cock and pavo for chickenlike). Linnaeus’ descriptions, however, seem to be based primarily on the domestic turkey imported to the U.S. by Europeans. He also described a Mexican subspecies from a specimen taken at Mirador, Veracruz, but which is probably extinct today. . .

Happy Thanksgiving!

-CH

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