Planning exhibits for the History Colorado Center is an exciting part of the work of the Department of Culture and Community. We study the collection and select objects for display that enhance the stories we tell. We chose to feature the bowl pictured above (O.291.1) in Living West, an exhibit opening November 2013 at the History Colorado Center. The bowl, which depicts a turkey, was collected in 1892 by the Wetherill family in conjunction with Arthur F. Wilmarth, the Colorado State Historian at the time. The bowl helps us tell of the importance of turkeys to the Ancient Puebloans of the Mesa Verde region of Colorado.
Turkeys have been significant to Ancient Puebloan people from as early as 200 BC. One of the first activities Ancient Puebloans engaged in was to collect turkey feathers to make blankets and robes. Puebloans wrapped hundreds of feathers around twined yucca cordage and then connected the cordage to make blankets or robes. Turkey feather blankets are extremely warm and remained popular with the Ancient Puebloans until the Spanish introduced wool. Myron Gonzales, from the Pueblo of San Ildefonso, New Mexico, constructed a turkey feather blanket for History Colorado using Ancient Puebloan techniques. It will also be on display in Living West. Ancient Puebloans also used turkey feathers to adorn other objects such as prayer sticks. They used turkey long bones to make needles or awls, and hollowed out bones and cut them into beads for necklaces.
The Ancient Puebloan people domesticated increasing numbers of turkeys over time. The number of turkey bones in household trash deposits started increasing, while the number of deer bones decreased. This suggests deer were overhunted and turkeys replaced them as a source of protein. Archaeologists have discovered remnants of turkey pens and roosts, along with high concentrations of turkey eggshells, dung, gizzard stones, and bones in archaeological sites. Skeletal remains of turkeys with healed injuries have been found and are an indication of domestication. Turkeys with these types of injuries would not have survived in the wild. Animal husbandry experts think turkeys were relatively easy to domesticate because they live in hierarchically organized flocks. Raising turkeys doesn’t require a large investment. Turkeys ate about a half a pound of corn per day, supplemented by insects, nuts, berries, grass, and household trash.
Visit Living West at the History Colorado Center to learn more about turkeys and their role in Ancient Puebloan culture!
Sheila Goff, NAGPRA Liaison, Department of Culture and Community
Contact the Library
Stephen H. Hart Library and Research Center
History Colorado Center
Denver, CO 80203