From the Collections Room (Branta)

With Thanksgiving tomorrow, I had hoped to do an entry about fossil turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) from Virginia. Turkeys have been reported from a few Virginia Pleistocene deposits in Augusta County (Guilday, 1962) and Bath County (Guilday et al, 1977). But nearly all of VMNH’s Pleistocene collections come from the extensive deposits at Saltville, and to date Meleagris has not been reported from that site.A search of our collections database did not reveal any turkeys from Saltville, nor any fossil turkeys in the VMNH collection at all (our Archaeology Department does have Holocene turkey remains). A quick scan through the Saltville collections themselves turned up several bird bones, but nothing that was obviously turkey.

There are a few large bird bones in our Saltville collection, including the left humerus shown above, which have been tentatively identified as geese (Branta sp.). Geese are even more rare in the Virginia Pleistocene than turkeys; the only published record from the state is from marine sediments at Virginia Beach (Ray et al., 1968). Given Saltville’s Appalachian location it will probably be worth taking a closer look at some of these large bird bones to confirm that none of them are from turkeys, but the presence of geese is consistent with the large lake and the tundra-like climate found at Saltville during the Pleistocene.

The humerus shown above is current on exhibit at VMNH in the Uncovering Virginia hall.


Guilday, J. E., 1962. The Pleistocene local fauna of the Natural Chimneys, Augusta County, Virginia. Annals of Carnegie Museum 36(9):87-122.

Guilday, J. E., P. W. Parmalee, and H. W. Hamilton, 1977. The Clark’s Cave bone deposit and the late Pleistocene paleoecology of the central Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. Carnegie Museum of Natural History Bulletin 2:1-87.

Ray, C. E., A. Wetmore, and D. H. Dunkle, 1968. Fossil vertebrates from the marine Pleistocene of southeastern Virginia. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 153(3):1-25, 2 pls.

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3 Responses to From the Collections Room (Branta)

  1. Dave Bohaska says:

    David Steadman (1980) A review of the osteology and paleontology of turkeys (Aves: Meleagridinae). Contributions in Science, Natural History Muesum of Los Angeles County, No. 30, reports a turkey tibiotarsus from the Claremont Member at Westmoreland State Park.

  2. altondooley says:

    Thanks, Dave! Our librarian is trying to get a copy for me.

  3. George Charles Fonger says:


    The turkey bone Dave Bohaska indicated was collected by me over 20 years ago.
    Paleontology and adging go together

    All the best George Fonger

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