When talking about turkeys, the first thing that normally comes to mind is the star of the bountiful feast on your Thanksgiving table. But during 300 BC, the Maya culture revered and honored these fowls as their gods.
Reports claimed that these birds were domesticated during those times to play an important role in religious rites. For the Maya people, they were one of the most coveted symbols of prestige and power.
Historical data can find turkeys in most areas in the Maya iconography and archaeology. The ancient civilization has the reputation of being one of the most advanced in history. Maya study experts revealed that the culture believes that this bird has exceptional powers that can be dangerous to humans from the dream space.
The bird is also depicted as a godlike figure in the Maya religion. At least one Maya leader incorporated the term “turkey” in his royal moniker.
Kitty Emery, an associate curator of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s environmental archeology, also mentioned that the rich and influential families almost exclusively owned the early turkeys during that time. Emery was included in the group of researchers who published a study showing evidence of ancient turkey domestication globally. Her group discovered hints of non-native turkeys present in El Mirador, one of the earliest Maya settlements home to over 200,000 individuals.
The population of El Mirador, now referred to as Guatemala, used to worship in gigantic pyramid-like temples. The civilization also reportedly lived a life with the assistance of incredibly modern roads and aqueducts. Researchers also discovered that they both eat and worship turkeys in the area.
While the Maya used to import turkeys all the way from Mexico, they also valued the ocellated turkey. These are the wild turkeys that roamed all over El Mirador. The birds were prized for their colorful heads and feathers. However, they were not easy to domesticate. If they were able to pet this type of turkey during those times, the turkey you will serve on Thanksgiving would look more ostentatious than those used today.
Emery also added that the looks of the esteemed turkeys were highly significant to the Maya people. These birds reportedly represented “elite power” as well as crucial long-distance trading relationships. It also symbolized essential sacrificial victim or used to make colorful feather cape without the need to go on a tedious hunting task.
Evidence also depicted the significance of turkeys in the culture in their religious rituals. The Maya art showed turkeys with their throats slit as used in New Year celebrations. The anthropologist also hypothesized that these birds were used to pray to their gods for a fertile new year ahead.
The Maya people may not have the opportunity to tame their local wild turkeys but could use both the local and northern ocellated turkeys in religious and social lives. Those turkeys were the ancestors of the modern turkeys that people used today as part of the Thanksgiving celebration. It means that they have a more dignified history in the bird’s DNA.