Geek Trivia: Wild Turkeys Were First Domesticated By Which Of These Ancient Peoples?

A map showing the regions of Central America where the Aztec empire existed
Aldan-2/Wikimedia

Answer: Mesoamericans

When you think about early mesoamerican culture, you probably think about all sorts of things but turkeys. Yet, if we trace the history of turkey domestication back through the centuries, we don’t arrive in central Europe, Asia, or somewhere on the shores of the Mediterranean, but in the heart of what would become the Aztec empire and, later, part of Mexico.

Starting roughly two thousand years ago, the indigenous people in what are now the modern day Mexican states of Jalisco, Guerrero, and Veracruz, began domesticating wild turkeys. Over time, they bred the turkeys to be larger and fed them diets not unlike what we feed modern livestock.

By the time the Aztec empire arose, the turkey was both a dietary staple and a significant element of their culture. Curiously, by our modern farming and dietary standards, the turkey was the only animal domesticated for food in the region. The massive network of lakes in the Aztec empire provided abundant protein in the form of fish, amphibians, and water fowl along with deer and rabbits in the area—the turkey was the only animal domesticated as a food source. In addition, the feathers from the turkey were incorporated into ceremonial dress and decorations.