Turkey Archaeology: A Call for Papers

Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports Special Issue Call for Papers: Turkey Husbandry and Domestication: Recent Advances
The turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is the only domesticated vertebrate to originate from North America. Its history of use and domestication is therefore of great importance to understanding the process, timing, practice and spread of New World animal husbandry. This special issue therefore brings together recent research papers that advance our understanding of turkey use and domestication through inter-disciplinary work involving skeletal morphology, paleopathology, osteometry, stable isotopes, and DNA analysis. We seek papers that span the entire history of turkey use and domestication from their earliest appearance in the archaeological record to their colonial period diffusion outside the Americas. Geographic coverage is sought from all areas of the species historic range including Mesoamerica, the American Southwest, and Eastern North America to generate more dialogue among researchers independently studying the topic in these cultural regions. Evidence documenting turkey transport outside the Americas is also relevant to this topic. Papers that demonstrate advances in inter-disciplinary and scientific approaches to studying turkey use and domestication are particularly welcomed.


First draft of manuscripts due: August 1, 2015
Notification of Acceptance/Revisions: Sept. 2015 (anticipated)
Final paper production deadline: Nov/Dec. 2016 (anticipated)
Expected Publication date: Spring 2016

Submission Guidelines:

Submissions to the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports are made on-line using through the Elsevier Publishing system. Through the on-line system, you will be able to submit your manuscript directly to the special issue. Registration, on-line submission login, and author guidelines are available at http://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-archaeological-science-reports/.

Optional open access publishing (on a per article basis) will be available for this special issue.

All submitted papers will be subject to regular peer-review procedures. Papers should not typically exceed 5000 words (excluding tables and references) and should not have been published previously nor be currently under consideration for publication elsewhere in any other format (print or electronic).

Please contact the lead guest editor, Erin Thornton (erin.thornton@wsu.edu), for additional information.


The Oldest Passenger Pigeon Fossil

How old is the earliest passenger pigeon fossil?  A single wing bone found at the Lee Creek Mine paleontological locality in North Carolina is 3.7 to 4.8 million years old, a time period known as the Early Pliocene. It is reasonable to ask whether a fossil that old is from the same species as the historically known passenger pigeon, and the paleontologists who identified it were cautious, officially labeling the humerus bone Ectopistes aff. migratorius, but also stating that “Apart from the slightly larger size, which probably would have been encompassed by variation in the recent species, the fossil shows no distinguishing differences from E. migratorius.” (Olson and Rasmussen 2001:300).

The thousands of other fossil bird bones found here were originally deposited in deep marine water and in fact most of the identified birds are ocean-going species like auks, shearwaters, and albatrosses. Land based birds (including the passenger pigeon) comprise a very small proportion of the assemblage (Olson and Rasmussen 2001).

Lee Creek Mine Humerus
The Pliocene passenger pigeon humerus (l, o) compared to a modern pigeon (Rock Dove, Columba livia, m, p) and historic passenger pigeon (n, q). Source: Plate 33, page 364-365, Olson and Rasmussen 2001.


Olson, Storrs L., and Pamela C. Rasmussen

2001       Miocene and Pliocene birds from the Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina.  Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology 90:233-365.


John Lawson on Passenger Pigeons in Carolina

John Lawson arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1700. At the end of the year, he set off with nine other people on a two month long excursion through South and North Carolina, arriving on the Pamlico River on the 24th of February, 1701. Along the way, they encountered passenger pigeons more than once.  On one occasion, after crossing a river, they “saw several Flocks of Pigeons, Field-Fares, and Thrushes.” (1709:42) Several days later, while waiting for one of the men to return with some horses that had run off, the others

went to shoot Pigeons, which were so numerous in these Parts, that you might see many Millions in a Flock; they sometimes split off the Limbs of stout Oaks, and other Trees, upon which they roost o’ Nights. You may find several Indian Towns, of not above 17 Houses, that have more than 100 Gallons of Pigeons Oil, or Fat; they using it with Pulse, or Bread, as we do Butter, and making the Ground as white as a Sheet with their Dung. The Indians take a Light, and go among them in the Night, and bring away some thousands, killing them with long Poles, as they roost in the Trees. At this time of the Year, the Flocks, as they pass by, in great measure, obstruct the Light of the day.(1709:44-45)

When Lawson wrote his book several years later, he incorporated additional knowledge he had obtained about the Carolinas. According to Lawson, pigeons did not breed along the coast of the Carolinas (“They leave us in the Summer.” 1709:140), but large flocks did roost there during the winter. He intimates that the size of these flocks could vary by year, with a particularly large number of pigeons seen in 1707, “the hardest Winter that ever was known” (1709:141) in Carolina. Yet these flocks paled in comparison to “the great and infinite Numbers of these Fowl, that are met withal about a hundred, or a hundred and fifty, Miles to the Westward of the Places where we at present live; and where these Pigeons come down, in quest of a small sort of Acorns” (1709:141)

Recalling his winter expedition, he wrote how

such prodigious Flocks of these Pigeons…had broke down the Limbs of a great many large Trees all over those Woods, whereon they chanced to sit and roost; especially the great Pines, which are a more brittle Wood, than our sorts of Oak are. These Pigeons, about Sun-Rise, when we were preparing to march on our Journey, would fly by us in such vast Flocks, that they would be near a Quarter of an Hour, before they were all pass’d by; and as soon as that Flock was gone, another would come; and so successively one after another, for great part of the Morning. (1709:141)

These flocks may have been traveling from roosts to feeding areas, or may have been working their way north to nesting grounds.  Lawson asked the local natives “where it was that those Pigeons bred, and they pointed towards the vast Ridge of Mountains, and said, they bred there.” (1709:142)



Lawson, John

1709       A New Voyage to Carolina; Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of That Country: Together with the Present State Thereof. And A Journal of a Thousand Miles, Travel’d Thro’ Several Nations of Indians. Giving a Particular Account of Their Customs, Manners, &c. London.

Powell, William S., ed.

John Lawson, 1674-1711. In Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. The University of North Carolina Press. http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/lawson/bio.html

Passenger Pigeon Lecture at New York State Museum

Next month, the New  York State Museum will be presenting a lecture  on the passenger pigeon.  Jeremy Kirchman is no stranger to extinct birds, having done research on the Carolina parakeet, the (possibly extinct) Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and others.

The passenger pigeon, icon of extinction
September 28, 2014 : 1:00 P.M. – 2:00 P.M.
Description: One hundred years ago, on September 1st 1914, the world’s last Passenger Pigeon died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo marking the demise of a species that once numbered in the billion of birds. What were Passenger Pigeons, and what happened to cause their extinction? Please join Dr. Jeremy Kirchman, New York State Museum Curator of Birds, as he presents this lecture on the life and times of America’s “wild pigeon”.

“quite a famously extinct species”

A female passenger pigeon in the collection of the Whanganui Regional Museum in New Zealand
A female passenger pigeon in the collection of the Whanganui Regional Museum in New Zealand

The Whanganui Regional Museum in New Zealand has three passenger pigeons in their collections, including this somewhat pale female donated to the museum in the nineteenth century by German ornithologist Otto Finsch.

Dr. Erich Dorfman, author of the quote above, described their specimens in this blog post.

New Passenger Pigeon Exhibit at Granville Museum

Passenger pigeon exhibit at Pember Museum. Source: manchesternewspapers.com

Looks like the Pember Museum in Granville, New York has a lovely new exhibit on the passenger pigeon. The museum, located near the Vermont border, has two mounted passenger pigeons and a clutch of eggs (a third specimen is on loan to the Adirondack Museum).

The Manchester Newspapers has just published an article by Derek Liebig on the exhibit, and you can also visit the museum’s website.