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The next time you eat turkey for dinner, think about this story.

For many hundreds of years, turkeys were only found in the Americas. Then, in the year 1524 or 1526, a man named William Strickland brought the first North American turkeys to England. Because the birds were so unusual, they were kept as pets or shown off as a sign of wealth.

Recently, some scientists looked at old bones that had been dug up from under an English city’s street and identified them as turkey bones. There were also bones from a calf, sheep, goose and several chickens. Somebody had eaten a big feast. By dating pieces of pottery next to the bones, the scientists figured out the meal took place sometime between the years 1520 and 1550, almost 500 years ago.

"What is exciting about these turkey bones …  is that they date from almost exactly the same time as the first birds came to England,” said English researcher Malene 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.

“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."

The man who first brought turkeys to England, that William Strickland guy, made so much money shipping birds over from America that he built a big home. He adopted the turkey as a symbol for his family, the first such symbol of the turkey in Britain. The church where Strickland is buried has images of turkeys in its stained-glass windows and even stone turkey sculptures on the walls.

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It’s pretty crazy to think you may be eating the same meal that only very rich people could afford more than 400 years ago. Happy new year!

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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