Earth Sciences Publications

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Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports

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The isotopic composition (δ13C, δ15N) of bone collagen from Ontario Late Woodland archaeological turkeys was compared with that of modern Ontario wild turkeys, and archaeological turkeys from American Southwestern, Mexican and other Woodland sites to determine whether Late Woodland Ontario peoples managed wild turkeys by provisioning them with maize, the only isotopically distinct horticultural plant at that time. Despite the fact that humans from Late Woodland Western Basin and Iroquoian traditions consumed equal amounts of maize, wild turkeys utilized by the two groups exhibit different diets. Western Basin turkeys reflect a C3-only diet, whereas Iroquoian turkeys were consuming significant quantities of maize (a C4 plant). Both groups of archaeological turkey consumed less maize than modern wild turkeys with access to waste left in fields by mechanized agriculture, but because ancient crop yields were much lower, we suggest that Iroquoian turkeys must have been provisioned, probably to create a reliable and nearby hunting niche (Linares 1976). Archaeological and isotopic evidence supports ethnohistoric accounts that turkeys were hunted after the fall harvest. Iroquoian archaeological turkey diets, in general, reflect the seasonal consumption of maize that would have been created by cold weather maize provisioning, with the major exception of one turkey from an Attawandaron (Neutral) site that appears to have been fed maize year round. Motivations for provisioning by Middle Ontario Iroquoian people likely included climate change and ritual/ceremonial activity as well as a reliable food supply. Because Iroquoian women controlled the harvest, it is likely that they were instrumental in altering this human/animal interaction, creating a position on the wild/domesticated continuum that is unique in the North American archaeological literature.

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