Turkey bones evidence of the UK’s first Christmas dinner?

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While many of us enjoy turkey as part of our annual Christmas dinner, the animals have only been in Britain since 1524, when they were brought over from the Americas.

Now, researchers believe they may have evidence of the first turkey dinner, in the form of three turkey bones dating back to around 1520-1550.

The bones were discovered under Paul Street in Exeter, and date from almost exactly the same time as the first birds came to England.

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Researchers believe they may have evidence of the first turkey dinner, in the form of three turkey bones dating back to around 1520-1550. The bones were discovered under a street in Exeter, and date from almost exactly the same time as the first birds came to England

Researchers believe they may have evidence of the first turkey dinner, in the form of three turkey bones dating back to around 1520-1550. The bones were discovered under a street in Exeter, and date from almost exactly the same time as the first birds came to England

Researchers believe they may have evidence of the first turkey dinner, in the form of three turkey bones dating back to around 1520-1550. The bones were discovered under a street in Exeter, and date from almost exactly the same time as the first birds came to England

THE FINDINGS 

Researchers have analysed two turkey femurs (thigh bones) and an ulna (wing), which were found alongside Spanish, German and Italian pottery and glassware.

The team believes these items could have been on the table when the turkey dinner was served. 

While the bones were first discovered in 1983, they have now been analysed, and dated to 1520-1550. 

Further analysis has revealed that the bones were butchered and probably eaten as part of a feast by wealthy people.

Also found at the site were the remains of a veal calf, several chickens, at least one goose and a sheep.

Researchers from the University of Exeter analysed two turkey femurs (thigh bones) and an ulna (wing), which were found alongside Spanish, German and Italian pottery and glassware.

The team believes these items could have been on the table when the turkey dinner was served.

England was first introduced to turkeys in 1524 by William Strickland, a member of Parliament in the reign of Elizabeth the first, following a voyage to the Americas.

Strickland is recorded to have bought six turkeys from Native American traders, and after he sailed back with them to Bristol, which is 80 miles (128 kilometres) away from Exeter, sold them for tuppence each.

Turkeys would have been a rare sight when they first appeared in England, and the first birds are likely to have been kept as pets, rather than served as food.

But by 1550, turkeys were commonly eaten at Christmas dinners.

Researchers from the University of Exeter have analysed two turkey femurs (one pictured) and an ulna, which were found alongside Spanish, German and Italian pottery and glassware. Turkeys would have been a rare sight when they first appeared in England

Researchers from the University of Exeter have analysed two turkey femurs (one pictured) and an ulna, which were found alongside Spanish, German and Italian pottery and glassware. Turkeys would have been a rare sight when they first appeared in England

Researchers from the University of Exeter have analysed two turkey femurs (one pictured) and an ulna, which were found alongside Spanish, German and Italian pottery and glassware. Turkeys would have been a rare sight when they first appeared in England

Historians even suggest that Henry VIII may have had turkey for Christmas.

While the bones were first discovered in 1983, they have now been analysed, and dated to 1520-1550.

Professor Alan Outram, 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.

While the bones were first discovered in 1983, they have now been analysed, and dated to 1520-1550. The first turkeys that arrived in Britain are likely to have been kept as pets, rather than served as food

While the bones were first discovered in 1983, they have now been analysed, and dated to 1520-1550. The first turkeys that arrived in Britain are likely to have been kept as pets, rather than served as food

While the bones were first discovered in 1983, they have now been analysed, and dated to 1520-1550. The first turkeys that arrived in Britain are likely to have been kept as pets, rather than served as food

FIRST TURKEYS IN ENGLAND

England was first introduced to turkeys in 1524 by William Strickland, a member of Parliament in the reign of Elizabeth the first, following a voyage to the Americas.

Strickland brought 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.

Turkeys would have been a rare sight when they first appeared in England, and the first birds are likely to have been kept as pets, rather than served as food.

But by 1550, turkeys were commonly eaten at Christmas dinners.

Popular history even suggest that Henry VIII may have had turkey for Christmas.

Strickland continued to import wild turkeys, which were eaten by Native Americans, who used their feathers for ceremonial purposes such as headdresses and robes.

He adopted the turkey as the symbol on his family crest in 1550, reported to be the first depiction of turkey in Britain.

The church where Strickland is buried has images of turkeys in stained-glass windows, a carved lectern and stone sculptures on the walls.

‘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.’

Further analysis has revealed that the bones were butchered and probably eaten as part of a feast by wealthy people.

Also found at the site were the remains of a veal calf, several chickens, at least one goose and a sheep.

Malene Lauritsen, one of the researchers who worked on the study, said: ‘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.

‘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.

‘I have found cut marks on the bones, showing the birds were butchered.

‘We can only guess at who ate them, and for what reason, but turkey would have been very expensive and the same household certainly ate other pricy meat too, so this must have been a special occasion.’

Strickland continued to import wild turkeys, which were eaten by Native Americans, who used their feathers for ceremonial purposes such as headdresses and robes.

Further analysis has revealed that the bones were butchered and probably eaten as part of a feast by wealthy people. The bones are now on display at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) until February 2020

Further analysis has revealed that the bones were butchered and probably eaten as part of a feast by wealthy people. The bones are now on display at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) until February 2020

Further analysis has revealed that the bones were butchered and probably eaten as part of a feast by wealthy people. The bones are now on display at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) until February 2020

He adopted the turkey as the symbol on his family crest in 1550, reported to be the first depiction of turkey in Britain.

The village church where Strickland is buried has images of turkeys depicted in stained-glass windows, a carved lectern and stone sculptures on the walls. 

The bones are now on display at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) until February 2020.

While many of us enjoy turkey as part of our annual Christmas dinner, the animals have only been in the UK since 1524, when they were brought over from the Americas

While many of us enjoy turkey as part of our annual Christmas dinner, the animals have only been in the UK since 1524, when they were brought over from the Americas

While many of us enjoy turkey as part of our annual Christmas dinner, the animals have only been in the UK since 1524, when they were brought over from the Americas

Mr Tom Cadbury, Assistant Curator at the museum, said: ‘This is a fascinating discovery and really shows what an international place Tudor Exeter was.

‘RAMM already displays some of the Spanish, German and Italian pottery and glassware found on the site, perhaps the turkey dinner was eaten off one of these.

‘RAMM welcomes research on the archaeological finds from Exeter in the museum; evidence such as this helps us uncover stories about the lives of past people in Exeter.’

The bones were discovered under Paul Street in Exeter, and date from almost exactly the same time as the first birds came to England

The bones were discovered under Paul Street in Exeter, and date from almost exactly the same time as the first birds came to England

The bones were discovered under Paul Street in Exeter, and date from almost exactly the same time as the first birds came to England



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