There are a couple of ways archaeologists and scientists can find out more about an ancient civilization. From what they built to what they drew, there are always clues to figuring out what happened when the written form is not available. But using the genetic material of domesticated birds seems a bit odd.
And yet, this is exactly what scientists have done to figure out what happened to a culture that disappeared “without a trace” seven centuries ago. Mitochondrial DNA was taken from turkey bones found. Results suggest that the ancient civilization simply moved to another place.
The results confirm what their descendants have always believed. The latter are living on in the Southwest of the US. The Ancestral Puebloans are the descendants of the Pueblo people. The Pueblo people “once occupied the Four Corners region of the Southwestern United States.”
The Pueblo people left “magnificent structures made of sandstone block and timber.” Presently, these cliffs can be found in Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park. These stunning structures were built around the thirteenth century.
Such a departure has puzzled archaeologists over the years. The mystery of the Pueblo people has made archaeologists see this ancient civilization as more alluring and this is why they are still on the hunt to figure out what happened to them. It seems that saying they simply packed up and left is not good enough.
It is plausible that the Pueblo people simply left. There could have been political turmoil which left them no choice. There could also have been cultural conflicts that led them to seek settlement somewhere else. However, it’s the “conflicting material evidence” which is keeping archeologists from ending their research.
Digging into the past was made more difficult by the fact that scientists have no access to the bones of the Pueblo people. This is why a team of researchers turned to animal bones for research. It was merely the next best option to learn more about these people.
“The researchers speculated that comparisons between populations of animals such as dogs and turkeys could reveal signs of an ancient migration.” It was a possible lead to help them understand or find evidence of the movement of the Pueblo people.
The researchers extracted mitochondrial DNA “from hundreds of turkey bones gathered from Mesa Verde, as well as a few dozen dog bones, and tested what are called haplogroups.” The latter are “clusters of genes that tend to cling together as they're inherited.” Such clusters make it easier for researchers to compare ancestry.
Now, researchers know that before 1280CE, “the turkeys from the Mesa Verde area and northern Rio Grande had completely different matriarchal lineages.” After this time, however, the turkeys of Rio Grande started carrying “Mesa Verde haplotypes.” This indicates “a strong evidence of a mixing of stock.”
Still, results do indicate what many have already believed — that the Pueblo people chose to migrate. “People don't need their own history to be verified by archaeology, but they are interested in having science work alongside them, not in spite of them," Bruce Bernstein, tribal historic preservation officer, told Michael Price at Science. “This is a good example of work that fills in some gaps in what Tewa people have talked about.”