Gobble, Gobble! It’s Time for Turkey!

Let’s dig into some history about the famous gobbling bird, the holiday we love to eat it on, and the archaeology of the area the tradition originated from!

The modern domestic turkeys we see today are descended from ones domesticated by Mayans in Mexico around 2,000 years ago. Evidence for Turkey domestication has also been dated to around 2,000 years ago in the American Southwest, Four Corners region, by the Ancestral Puebloans. Sites like Basketmaker III sites have included evidence such as

Designs incorporating turkeys from black-on-white bowls made during the Classic Mimbres phase in southwestern New Mexico, as drawn in essays by Jesse Walter Fewkes, published by the Smithsonian in 1923 and 1924.

droppings, eggshells, and feathers. Turkeys were kept for food but also most likely valued for their feathers, used for ritual objects and even textiles. It has also been argued that turkeys were used in ritual sacrifices.

The earliest evidence of the Mexican turkey in the ancient Mayan world is from turkey bones discovered by archaeologists at the site of EL Mirador in Guatemala, dating to 300 B.C. to 100 A.D. Along with archaeological, zooarchaeological, and ancient DNA, researchers were able to determine that the non-local turkeys indicate a Preclassic exchange of animals between northern Mesoamerica and the Maya cultural region. The evidence represents the earliest Mesoamerican domestication and rearing of turkeys and provides information on long-distance trade connections.

Turkey eggshells and bones from an offering 1,500 years ago in Oaxaca, Mexico. (Smithsonianmag.com)

The original Thanksgiving dinner or Harvest Feast that lasted for three days at the Plymouth Colony in 1621 was most certainly smaller and less varied than what we gorge on today. An English leader who was present at the meal, Edward Winslow, wrote in a letter to a friend, “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors…many of the Indians coming amongst us…for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer.” Turkeys were mentioned by William Bradford of Plymouth while describing the 1621 autumn, “And besides waterfowl, there was great store of wild Turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison,” increasing the chance that turkeys were present at the meal.

Plymonth Rock. (plymoutharch.com)

Today, archaeologists and graduate students with the University of Massachusetts-Boston excavate undeveloped lots on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts, near the National Historic Landmarks site which includes the Pilgrims first cemetery which was a Wampanoag Village thousands of years before. With plans for a permanent memorial titled Remembrance Park, opportunities for excavations are becoming more limited. The Park will focus on The Great Dying of 1616-1619 when diseases from Europeans plagued the Wampanoag and killed around 50,000, the first and harsh winter the Pilgrims experience in 1620-162, and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

The construction of the park is scheduled for 2023 unless archaeologists make extraordinary finds. Linda Coombs, a Wampanoag tribal leader and activist states, “The Park is intended to acknowledge and preserve what we’ve all lived through in 2020. It’s an opportunity to bring the past and present together in ways we never could have foreseen.”

So please enjoy your turkey this Thanksgiving, but do not forget the history behind the holiday!

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Green Cabin Quarry Rhyolite Flakes: By Dr. Lara Homsey-Messer

Several undergraduate and graduate students are working in the IUP Archaeology lab processing thousands to rhyolite flakes excavated from the Green Cabin quarry site, located in Adams County, PA, on the hillslopes of South Mountain, just east of the Carbaugh Run Natural Area. Green Cabin is one of hundreds of quarry loci where rhyolite for making stone tools was quarried prehistorically in the South Mountain region.

The Precambrian-aged rhyolite in South Mountain originated as lava over 500 million years ago. About 250 million years ago, this lava was altered by heat and pressure associated with mountain building resulting from the collision of North America and Africa. This process resulted in a strong, fine-grained, and intergranular texture conducive to knapping into stone tools. Rhyolite varies widely in color and texture, sometimes even within one quarry location. During the Archaic and Woodland cultural periods, Native Americans quarried for high-quality material in pits measuring approximately 6-8 feet in depth and 20 feet in diameter. Today, the quarry pits appear as subtle depressions that have been backfilled prehistorically by the excavation of adjacent pits, as well as historically by erosion and vegetative debris.

What has long puzzled archaeologists is why prehistoric people went to so much work to dig pits down to bedrock when it could have been more easily collected from the surface. The other question of interest is why they quarried in some locations and not others where rhyolite outcrops. In order to help answer these questions, and with a permit from the PA SHPO and DCNR, Paul Marr of Shippensburg University began excavating the Green Cabin site in 2020. Thousands of flakes and debitage were recovered from 3 pits approximately a meter deep each.

Students are conducting a lithic and geologic analysis of the material. This includes measuring the size of the flakes, determining the type of flake, as well as describing the geology in terms of color, texture, volcanic structures and phenocrysts (i.e., large crystals of quartz and potassium feldspar embedded in the fine-grained groundmass).

Usually, quarry lithics exhibit evidence for early-stage reduction:  large flakes with a lot of weathering rind on them—this cortex must be removed in order to evaluate the suitability of the stone for knapping, and to reduce the initial size of cobbles for transport elsewhere for further reduction. But at Green Cabin, we were surprised to find a large proportion of small, later stage reduction flakes, suggestion that more reduction was happening at this quarry then one would expect.

The answer may lie partly in the unique geologic setting of Green Cabin itself. Marr notes several anomalous features: the site sits on a mid-slope bench rather than a ridgetop like most of the quarries; there are no outcrops of similar rhyolite within several hundred meter; and it is covered by a thick layer of colluvium, such that bedrock is very deep here—the prehistoric miners were not digging to bedrock in this location.  Marr argues that this flow of material plucked fractured bedrock from upslope and moved it downhill, making quality rhyolite available near the surface.

Work is ongoing and is expected to continue into the spring semester. We also anticipate comparing the material from Green Cabin to material excavated at ridgetop quarry sites in the region. As we increase our sample size and see a wider array of material from other sites, we hope to be able to answer some of the questions related to selection criteria, quarry location, and why the quarried material was reduced further here than at other quarry locations.

For more information visit: https://www.iup.edu/anthropology/research/antiquity-of-the-south-mountain-landscape.htmlv

Why Do the Leaves Change Color in Fall?

When the days shorten and temperatures fall, the season of autumn begins, most noticeably with the changing color and falling of leaves. As plants stop making what gives them their green color, chlorophyll, due to the colder and darker weather, they instead break it down into smaller molecules, changing the leaves from green into shades of yellow, orange, red, and purple with the carotenoid and anthocyanin pigments accumulating in the leaves in the absences of the chlorophyll. If plants can break down and move the chlorophyll out of the leaves before the leaves fall, they save energy by reabsorbing the molecules that make up chlorophyll so when it is sunnier again, they do not have to start from the beginning to make chlorophyll, as it takes a lot of energy to do so.

While some like to believe that old Jack Frost has a hand in changing leaf colors, long before this legend and modern science, Native American tribes had other explanations for the beautiful fall leaf colors we experience every year. Enjoy reading summaries of some of these ancient Native American legends about why the leaves change color or why they fall (see links below for the full stories!):

The Algonquin believed that there was once a great bear threatening the people of the tribe, by eating their food, destroying their homes, and mauling their women and children. Warriors from several tribes had to come together to hunt it, chasing the bear for months over mountains and seas. One arrow finally pierced the bear but did not kill it. The pain caused the bear to rear up to the heavens where it is still chased by the warriors to this day around the earth. In autumn, the bear rises above the horizon, dripping its blood onto the trees below, causing them to change color.

A similar Haudenosaunee legend also includes a great bear that was stealing the animals the villagers relied on as food. As hunger increased, many parties of warriors went out to kill the bear but failed. Three brothers for three nights had the same recurring dream that they would track and kill the bear. After setting off, they tracked the bears to the end of the earth, following it into the heavens as it leaped from the earth into the sky. The three brothers are still chasing it to this day, and as the bear slows down in the fall to prepare for its winter sleep, the brothers are able to get close enough to injure the bear with arrows, causing the blood to drip down and paint the leaves of fall. Both legends state that the bear reappears in the sky as the Big Dipper, with the warriors still chasing him (they are the handle).

Other similar myths say that celestial hunters do capture the bear each fall, changing the leaves to red from the bears blood, but also as the hunters cook the bear, the fat that spatters out of the great kettle in the sky color the leaves yellow or turn the grass white!

A Lakota legend states that as the winter weather approached, the “grass and flower folk were in sad condition, for they had no protection from the sharp cold.” Then, “he who looks after the things of His creation came to their aid,” by telling the leaves of the trees to fall to the ground to create a warm blanket to protect the roots of the grass and flowers. To repay the trees, he let them have “one last bright array of beauty.” Therefore, every Indian summer, the leaves fall after their display of “farewell colors” to follow their “appointed task-covering the Earth with a thick rug of warmth against the chill of winter.”

A Wyandot (Huron) legend also involves a bear, along with a deer. The selfish Bear who “often made trouble among the Animals of the Great Council” sought out the Deer who had walked over the Rainbow Bridge into the sky land. The Bear said to the Deer, “This sky land is the home of the Little Turtle. Why did you come into this land? Why did you not come to meet us in the Great Council? Why did you not wait until all the Animals could come to live here?” The Deer became angry, believing that only the Wolf could ask these questions. The Deer tried to kill the Bear with his horns, tearing into him, as they fought. The noise from the battle urged the Wolf into the sky to stop the fighting, and both animals fled. The blood of the Bear fell from the Deer’s horns onto the leaves below, changing them to red, yellow, brown, scarlet, and crimson. Each year the leaves take on the multitude of colors, and the Wyandots say “the blood of the Bear has again been thrown down from the sky upon the trees of the Great Island.”

While these are probably only a few of the myths and variations of past reasonings behind the changing of the leaves, they are beautiful stories and a lasting part of Native American history and legends. I hope you enjoyed these small summaries and pause to appreciate the gorgeous, colorful leaves this fall!

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