Let’s Talk Turkey

For those intrigued with some of the issues of plants and animals in the Book of Mormon, a recent news item from the University of Florida offers some interesting information.
The possibility that turkeys may have been part of references to “flocks” in the Book of Mormon is strengthened by recent discoveries of Mayan remains showing that domesticated turkeys were present much earlier than previously realized. See “UF Researchers Discover Earliest Use of Mexican Turkeys by Ancient Maya” from Eureka Alert (eurekalert.org) in a release dated Aug. 8, 2012. An excerpt follows:

UF researchers discover earliest use of Mexican turkeys by ancient Maya

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new University of Florida study shows the turkey, one of the most widely consumed birds worldwide, was domesticated more than 1,000 years earlier than previously believed.

Researchers say discovery of the bones from an ancient Mayan archaeological site in Guatemala provides evidence of domestication, usually a significant mark of civilization, and the earliest evidence of the Mexican turkey in the Maya world. The study appears online in PLoS ONE today.

The discovery of the turkey bones is significant because the Maya did not use a lot of domesticated animals. While they cultivated domesticated plants, most of their animal protein came mostly from wild resources, said lead author Erin Thornton, a research associate at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus and Trent University Archaeological Research Centre.

“We might have gotten the timing of the introduction of this species to the ancient Maya wrong by a significant chunk of time,” Thornton said. “The species originates from central Mexico, outside the Maya cultural area. This is the species the Europeans brought back with them to Europe — all domestic turkeys originated from Mexico.”

Using archaeological evidence, comparisons of bone structure and ancient DNA analysis, scientists determined the turkey fossils belonged to the non-local species Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo, which is native to central and northern Mexico. The Mexican turkey is the ancestor of all domestic turkeys consumed in the world today and Mesoamerica’s only indigenous domesticated animal. The discovery of the bones south of the turkey’s natural range shows animal exchange occurred from northern Mesoamerica to the Maya cultural region during the Late Preclassic period from 300 B.C. to A.D. 100.

“This research has consequences for understanding Maya subsistence because they would have had access to a controlled, managed resource,” Thornton said. “The turkey bones came from right within the ceremonial precinct of the site, so these are probably the remains of some sort of elite sacrifice, meal or feast.”

The bones were recovered from the El Mirador archaeological site, one of the largest and most developed Preclassic locations found in the Maya lowlands. The site contains massive temple complexes, some of the largest Maya architecture ever constructed.

“Plant and animal domestication suggests a much more complex relationship between humans and the environment — you’re intentionally modifying it and controlling it,” Thornton said.

Researchers assumed turkey bones previously recovered from Maya sites belonged to the native ocellated turkey, Meleagris ocellata. The new evidence means researchers may need to re-examine previously recovered bones, said Florida State University anthropology professor emeritus Mary Pohl.

“This study is extremely significant and I think it opens up a whole new perspective on the Maya and animal domestication,” Pohl said. “I find it especially interesting that these turkey bones are in this very special pyramid context because people often think of turkeys as something to eat, but they were probably making some sort of special offerings of them, which would go along with the fact that they brought them in from a long distance.”

Very interesting. Was Ammon risking his life to vigorously defend King Lamoni’s turkey flocks? Food for thought. And thanksgiving. The relationship to religious rites (animal sacrifice) and religious sites is especially interesting.

The turkey, though, is mentioned as Mesomerica’s only indigenous domesticated animal. Were there others? Does the Book of Mormon text indicate that there were multiple indigenous domesticated animals? 

Update, 8/19/2012: Sorry, but my wife has called fowl on my suggestion about Ammon. She feels that the turkey hypothesis won’t fly because turkeys don’t need a lot of water (see, for example, this guide on pasturing turkeys), making it unlikely that turkey flocks were being marched regularly to the old watering hole.  Well, she may be right, which tapirs down the list of possibilities.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

32 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Turkey

  1. Once again, thank you for this type of information. I appreciate the time and effort you and others put into sites like this to keep us informed, help understand, make us think, uplift us, etc.
    (How do you find this stuff?!) 🙂

  2. Please keep in mind that just because the BoM mentions turkeys and perhaps there is proof of turkeys, doesn't mean the BoM is true. It simply means there were turkeys then, and there are turkeys now.

  3. Anonymous, you are exactly right. The truthfulness of the Book of Mormon exists independent of archaeological evidence. The truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is not in question, Jeff and many other members of the LDS Church simply think findings like this are interesting (many of certainly appreciate Jeff's efforts).

  4. I think it's funny, the more they 'learn' the more they figure out that they already knew. I wouldn't be surprised by any discoveries at this point, but the real point to me is that they're still making discoveries.

  5. Jeff and many other members of the LDS Church simply think findings like this are interesting.

    I disagree. The faithful think these findings interesting not in their own right but only because they are faith-enhancing. That's why the faithful are so fascinated by literary devices that the apologists hold to support the BoM's authenticity (devices like chiasmus), but not devices (like, say, anaphora) that are apologetically neutral.

    Ditto for this post's turkey talk. Jeff mentions it not because of its intrinsic interest, but because he believes it can make it easier to believe in the BoM as an ancient text. It's just more apologetics, which is fine; just be honest about it.

    — Eveningsun

  6. …okay. So we're trying to justify the appearance of "flocks" in the BoM, and it's any surprise at all that the indigenous culture found some sort of bird to domesticate?

  7. Nephites were supposed to have kept the law of Moses. How would they do that without sheep and goats? The law would have to be modified to allow for the sacrifice of turkeys in place of lambs. That would seem to be a significant enough development to warrant mention in a religious text.

  8. "The turkey, though, is mentioned as Mesomerica's only indigenous domesticated animal."

    So is there no evidence that tapirs were ever domesticated?

    "Does the Book of Mormon text indicate that there were multiple indigenous domesticated animals? "

    Don't know about indigenous, but multiple, definitely yes.

  9. Maybe articles like this are, to some LDS, faith enhancing. I wanted to be an archeologist. My husband is a wildlife biologist. I read magazines of the different fields of science when I am able. I did not want to be an archeologist because I am LDS, but because when I was a child, before I understood religion, my Grandfather introduced me to the planets and geology. We would go to abandoned mining towns (1800's era) and hunt for antique bottles, and he would explain rocks and soil to me, and I was hooked. I like science for science sake.

    My Catholic Aunt shows me things the Catholics put out to enhance their faith, and they are very good at it. I have relatives of many religions and they speak of faith building/enhancing subjects on occasion, that helped them. Sometimes people need a little help to recharge their faith regardless of what religion they belong to, me included.

  10. my wife has called fowl…the turkey hypothesis won't fly…which tapirs down the list of possibilities…

    Awesome puns, Jeff. It seems as though maybe your wife rules the roost, in which case it is you, not the turkey, who has been domesticated.

  11. BINGO, And another piece of the puzzle falls into place. I wonder what the Mormon-Haters are going to say once an article like this comes out about the Mesoamerican horse. The backtracking from the Mormon-Haters will be quite amusing to read: "Well, we have always known there were horses in the America's, we just never knew when they were first domesticated, the BoM is still very false!" It will be something really classy like that.

  12. So Eveningsun, why does he turn around and point out the problems with the AMmon-turkey hypothesis and even raise the problem of domesticated animals at all? Might it be that some Mormons are interested in better understanding the text and discussing it for reasons other than apologetics alone?

  13. Might it be that some Mormons are interested in better understanding the text and discussing it for reasons other than apologetics alone?

    Not in this case. Just because Jeff treats the turkey question even-handedly does not change the fact that the question has apologetic ramifications. (Note the unjustified but highly predictable way Weston Krogstadt responded above to Jeff's musings: as if they were yet another faith-enhancing apologetic slam-dunk.)

    There are innumerable questions one could ask about the BoM that have no apologetic or theological dimension at all, yet they're never discussed here. Jeff isn't interested in the text itself. Which, as I keep saying, is fine; just be honest about it.

    — Eveningsun

  14. lol, Weston. I feel like somebody offended you, really, really badly some time in the past with an anti-mo excerpt.

  15. I just like the way Jeff shows the entire world the Book of Mormon is true. Everyone, I mean EVERYONE knows that over time a hoax slowly fades away into disbelief because over time it is proven wrong. While the Book of Mormon is the exact opposite. Every year there are more and more slam dunks. Remember this: "There were no trans-Atlantic voyages like this, it would be impossible!" Remember this: "The ancients never wrote on metal plates!" Remember this: "Indians didn't have a written language!" Remember this: "Indians never had priets and lawyers and governments!" Remember this: "The Maya were a peaceful people, not the way the BoM describes them!" SHWANGGGGGG! Slam-Dunk baby.

  16. Haha, riight. Remember this: the Indians were the Lamanites in the BoM! The Book of Abraham and all the facsimiles are a translation from the Egyptian language, and it was written by Abraham himself! The Garden of Eden–it was in Missouri!

    If you don't believe in any of those lines, it's because they were formerly mainstream beliefs from your religion, dropped or modified due to scholarship and proper criticism.

    Of course, plenty of people defect from Mormonism once they figure it all out. Internet forums for exmormons are growing pretty strongly. Surprise surprise–not everyone can handle all the cognitive dissonance.

    But you think hoaxes fade away over time? What do you think scientology, jehova's witness, and the like are doing? falling to the wayside due to their obvious hoax-ness?

    secularism is gradually taking over in the developed world, too. guess these secular ideologies aren't hoaxes at all, either.

  17. Weston, be careful on this issue. There are many interesting areas where previous challenges with the Book of Mormon have been overcome, including some very cool things like the Arabian peninsula discoveries, but there are also a host of challenges. For each apparent slam dunk, one can look at other issues and see, if one wishes, show-stoppers that might lead one to reject the Book of Mormon. There are puzzles and challenges, and we should recognize that there is not going to be "proof" that removes the need for faith as long as the Lord is kindly giving us time to repent and come to Him with faith.

    I would suggest that we fine tune our rejoicing to gratitude for the evidences of plausibility that the Lord has "leaked" for the present time, evidences which can strengthen faith once applied and overcome some hurdles, once encountered, but which will not reach the level of slam-dunk proof. That gratitude needs to be coupled with patience as we confront puzzles and problems (gaps in our knowledge). It also must be blended with respect for the intelligence and sincerity of those who can't accept the Book of Mormon for the problems they see with it. They aren't stupid or just base infidels. Some good and smart people see things differently and struggle. It's not all slam dunks either way.

  18. Weston, after my comment above, I saw a comment from you that I felt was clearly inappropriate. It has been deleted. Please don't say things that are disparaging to other readers, especially those who have shown a great deal of intelligence and civility in their comments. I don't know who Openminded is, but the comments from this person have been a wonderful example of open-mindedness, civil disagreement, and intelligent contributions, in spite of disagreeing with us. We need interactions with people like Openminded to better understand the gaps in our faith and our own spiritual needs.

  19. Jeff,

    I've read your comments elsewhere to the effect that the Arabian peninsula evidence is about the strongest historical evidence for the Book of Mormon so far. I'm curious to know what you think are the 2 or 3 most challenging potential "show-stoppers," as you refer to them above. Perhaps you could share that sometime. I've heard other apologists say that there is evidence for and against the Book of Mormon, but I've never heard examples of what they consider to be evidence against.

  20. I do agree with the Mormon-Haters on one point. Many mormon men are far too effeminate. Far too lacking in testicular fortitude. Far too eager to throw truth under the bus while reaching across the table to those who hate them and are ready to knife them in the back. Have fun reaching across the table to the enemy Jeff, I thought more of you than that.

  21. Weston,
    I don't know what world you think we live in. But if you think spouting out vitriol to everyone who's critical of your faith-based beliefs is a good idea, then you're only going to alienate yourself and your beliefs.

    Or do you think the anti-Mormons who actually hate Mormonism are effective apologists? You're about as convincing as they are.

    Hope you're proud.

  22. Excessive zeal does this sometimes, Weston, leading good people to swiftly turn on their allies when there is a difference of opinion.

    I don't know who you are or where you are in your journey of faith, but I'll share this warning from my experience with disappointed former enthusiasts: The inability to respect different opinions often leads to great loneliness and frustration, as one finds all former friends too lacking in fortitude, too fickle in faith, too "effeminate" in the fight, leaving only one true warrior on a very small peak in a world where even the former font of faith must be abandoned as an apostate, effeminate church. I pray that this process of decay does not happen to you.

    Meanwhile, I'll stay busy tossing the truth under the bus, or, as I see it, filling in some potholes and rough patches on roads and bridges so that others can drive across them on the way to Zion.

    Note, though, that in asking for respect and kindness from readers and in deleting offensive remarks, I am not abandoning any principle of the Restored Gospel that I can find in the official doctrines of the Church. Nothing in the scriptures requires us to call other people jerks.

  23. This is a great juxtaposition between sincere believer (Weston) and reformist (Mormanity).

    Weston – It seems entirely reasonable that if your beliefs are indeed reality than proof would gradually catch up with it. Notice how Mormanity rejects this idea: “we should recognize that there is not going to be "proof" that removes the need for faith”. With this Mormanity allows the nature of God to include elaborately deceptive and intricate schemes to deliberately deceive humanity in order to test faith. When a person such as yourself objects, Mormanity will then insist you object to all the dominate monotheist religions because they also believe God engaged in such deceptive tactics in testing Abraham’s faith, essential declaring you an atheist if he is wrong. Eventually, despite lengthy discussion reasoning about God, the discussion will suddenly conclude that there is no point trying to reason about God, and that only Mormanity is qualified to reject other religions according what he has declared the nature of God to be.

    Weston – Have you consider the aligning yourself with the fundamentalist Mormons instead the ever moderating LDS branch of Mormonism?

  24. You really do need to toughen up Jeff. I would suggest joining your local boxing club and let those guys smack you around a little bit. Believe me, you will thank me for it later. Guys like you who let Mormon-Haters onto their blogs and write the most appalling lies, yet delete truthful comments like mine are, well, I don't know how else to say it but: sissies. Yes Jeff, you are a sissy. Someone needs to say it, and I just did. Stand up, be a man. Don't throw truth under the bus to make friends with a bunch of anonymous Mormon-Haters. It's time for you to look in the mirror and say these words out loud: "Jeff, you're a sissy and you need to Man-up!"

  25. I thought of you:

    Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve opened the Priesthood Session of General Conference by asking those in the Priesthood to become men.

    “The Church, and the world and women are crying for men,” Elder Christofferson said. “They are crying, ‘Rise Up, O Men of God.’”

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