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Are these bones the remains of England's first turkey dinner?
JAY GORY, MANAGING EDITOR, science
Poultry bones dug up from a street may be the remains of the first ever turkey dinner in England, archaeologists believe. The 16th century bones - two thighs and a wing – have been analysed by University of Exeter archaeologists and identified as among some the first turkeys to be brought to England from the Americas. The first turkeys were introduced to England in 1524 or 1526 by William Strickland, an English landowner and trader who made his fortune sailing to the New World and eventually became an MP. Strickland is recorded as having bought six turkeys from Native American traders, and after he sailed back with them to Bristol, which is 80 miles away from Exeter, sold them for tuppence each. When turkeys first appeared in England they would have been a rare sight and the first ones are more likely to have been kept as pets for display of wealth rather than served as food. Professor Alan Outram, zooarchaeologist and Head of Archaeology at Exeter, said: “As the date of these bones overlaps with the historical evidence of Stickland’s introduction of the birds, the remains of this feast may well represent the earliest physical evidence for a turkey dinner in Britain. "This is an important discovery and could allow more research to be carried out about early domestic breeds and how the turkey has changed genetically since the 16th century.”  Professor Alan Outram and Malene Lauritsen Credit: University of Exeter  The bird became very popular after 1550 and already a common sight at Christmas dinners by the 1570s, before Thanksgiving in America was even invented. Popular history even suggests that Henry VIII may have had turkey for Christmas. The bird became so popular that thousands of turkeys were driven in to London like cattle in the 17th century. The bones were found in 1983 as part of excavations at Paul Street, in central Exeter, before the building of a shopping centre but have never been identified or dated. Archaeologists at the University of Exeter have now examined the bones and judging from pottery lying beside them, they date from the period 1520 to 1550. Analysis by Malene Lauritsen, a post-graduate researcher in the University of Exeter’s archaeology department, has proved from the bones that the turkeys were butchered and were probably eaten as part of a feast by wealthy people. They were found together with the remains of a veal calf, several chickens, at least one goose and a sheep. This selection of food – some of which were very expensive at the time – suggests this was the rubbish created by a feast attended by people of high status. Turkeys were first imported from America  Credit: Tom Grill, The Image Bank  “What is exciting about these turkey bones found in Exeter is that they date from almost exactly the same time as the first birds came to England," added Ms Lauritsen. Their age certainly means it is possible that these are the remains of one of the first turkeys to come to England, or a turkey bred from this group." Wild turkeys were eaten by native Americans and their feathers were also used for ceremonial purposes, including headdresses and robes. Strickland made such a fortune importing the birds that he able to buy a stately home in Yorkshire and even adopted the turkey on his family crest in 21550, the first time it had been depicted in Britain. The village church where Strickland is buried still has images of turkeys depicted in its stained-glass windows. The bones found during excavations at Paul street, in central Exeter, have been stored in boxes in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum’s stores, and are on temporary display. read more
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