A Tale of Two Turkeys

Dr B Tyr Fothergill, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History

 

B Tyr Fothergill

Tyr Fothergill received her Bachelor's degree at the University of Colorado, Boulder (USA) and her Masters at Simon Fraser University (Canada). Tyr completed her PhD at the University of Leicester in 2012 and subsequently pursued an independent research on gender and poultry-keeping, urban animal husbandry and human-avian relationships in post-medieval Plymouth and Belfast.

In January 2014, Dr B Tyr Fothergill was appointed a Research Associate at Leicester on the AHRC-funded project: “Cultural and Scientific Perceptions of Human-Chicken Interactions”. The aim of this research project is to scrutinise archaeological and historical evidence and to create a fresh and nuanced understanding of past chicken husbandry, with a focus on disease (palaeopathology).

Abstract

Dr B Tyr Fothergill's research followed the disease and social history of the turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, over a thousand years (AD 900 - c. 1900), thereby illuminating the evolving nature of turkey-human relationships prior to and after translocation of the species to Europe. Interdependent analyses of zooarchaeological data and historical documentary sources from the American Southwest, UK and Éire were undertaken. These analyses included a review of other archaeological reports. Evidence from Spanish colonial sources, European literature and Pueblo ethnography was then used to contextualise the archaeological data and explore the contingent nature and impact of human perceptions of the turkey.

The zooarchaeological data from the American Southwest indicated variation in the purposes for which turkeys were kept and differences in their living conditions. Signs of injury present in wing bones suggested that live domestic turkeys were plucked, perhaps repeatedly, at some sites. Metrical data showed temporal variation in the size and proportions of domestic turkeys across assemblages and differing population dynamics, including male-female ratios and percentages of juveniles. Other evidence suggested that the turkey was perceived neither uniformly nor unidimensionally across the American Southwest.

Upon arrival in Europe the turkey was briefly perceived as an exotic poultry species, but retained primarily economic significance. Whilst investigating post-medieval turkey husbandry, an association between women and poultry-keeping was clear. Many UK poultry keepers were female, which could explain the near-absence of post-medieval poultry husbandry from contemporaneous agrarian histories. Diseased turkey bones from 19thcentury London provide firm skeletal evidence for the health impact of ‘improvement’ upon the species. This research demonstrates that perception-driven translocation and transitions in husbandry methods have profoundly shaped the physical and conceptual transformation of the turkey over time. 

 

 

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