An ancient quilt made with 11,500 Turkish feathers by Southwestern Americans

A fiber cord segment wrapped with turkey feathers along with a single fluffy feather. Credit: WSU

Ancient inhabitants of the southwestern United States used about 11,500 feathers to make turkey feather blankets. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. The creators of such blankets were the ancestors of today’s Pueblo Indians, such as Hopi, Zuni and Rio Grande Pueblos.

A team led by Washington State University archaeologists examined how they analyzed a 99 x 108 cm (approximately 39 x 42.5 inch) turkey feather blanket about 800 years southeast of Utah. Their work revealed that thousands of hairy body feathers were wrapped in a 180-meter (about 200 yards) yucca fiber cord to make the quilt, which is now on display outside the Cedars State Park Museum in Blanding, Utah.

Researchers counted body feathers from wild turkey shells purchased from ethically and legally compliant vendors in Idaho to estimate how many turkeys would be needed to provide feathers for a quilt. Their efforts show that between four and 10 turkey feathers will be obtained to straighten the quilt, depending on the length of the selected feathers.

Bill Lipe and Shannon Tushingham

Bill Lipe and Shannon collect wild turkey feathers in Tushingham’s lab at Tushingham University. Credit: WSU

“Blankets or clothes made of turkey feathers as an insulating medium were widely used by the Ancestral Pueblo people in what is now the Upper Southwest, but little is known about how such weaves survived to this day due to their perishable nature.” Bill Lipe, a professor of anthropology at WSU and lead author of the article, said. “The aim of this study was to shed new light on the production of turkey feather blankets and to explore the economic and cultural aspects of raising turkeys to provide for the birds.”

Clothes and blankets made of animal skins, furs, or feathers are believed to be an important innovation for expanding into colder, wider, and higher altitudes, such as the Mountainous Southwest, where most of the early human settlements are located. At altitudes above 5,000 feet.

Previous work by Lipe and others shows that in the first two centuries AD, the production of quilts woven in the region began to replace the strips of rabbit skin. Ethnographic data show that the blankets were made by women and used as clothing in cold weather. like a dream and eventually a funeral dressing.

Shannon Tushingham, a professor and assistant professor of anthropology at WSU, said, “As the ancestral Pueblo farming populations developed, thousands of feather blankets would always be in circulation.” “Most likely, every member of the Pueblo community, from babies to adults, has one ancestor.”

Another interesting finding of the study was the painless collection of turkey feathers, which the ancestors of the Pueblo people used to make clothes, from live birds during the natural thaw. This would allow the bird to collect feathers several times a year throughout its life, which could take up to 10 years. Archaeological evidence shows that the turkey was not used as a food source from the time of its marriage until the first centuries AD, 1100 and 1200 AD, when it was extinct as a result of over-hunting in the region.

Until this period, most of the turkey bones reported from archeological sites were all skeletons of deliberately buried adult birds of ritual or cultural significance. Such burials continued to occur even after more turkeys were raised for food.

“When the blanket we analyzed for our research was prepared, we think that in the early 1200s, the birds that provided the feathers were considered important to the household and would be completely buried,” he said. “Respect for turkeys and their feathers is still reflected in Pueblo’s dances and rituals. Above with eagle feathers that are symbolic and culturally significant. ”

In the long run, the researchers said they hoped the study would help Southwestern Hindus understand the importance of turkey to local cultures.

“Before the Europeans came in 1500-1600, Turkey was one of the very few domestic animals in North America,” Tushingham said. “They have played and continue to play a very culturally important role in the lives of the people of Pueblo, and our hope is that this study will help shed light on this important connection.”

Reference: “Staying warm in the southwest of the mountain: a” supply side “view of turkey quilt production” by William D. Lipe, Shannon Tushingham, Eric Blinman, Laurie Webster, Charles T. LaRue, Aimee Oliver-Bozeman and Jonathan Till, “November 25 2020, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
DOI: 10.1016 / j.jasrep.2020.102604

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