Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Australian for "Turkey"

The old Foster's Lager "How to speak Australian" ad campaign would show pictures of sizable items and label them with a word for a much smaller item -- such as a picture of a shark with the word "guppy" -- then show one of the big Foster's "oilcans." "Fosters," the announcer would say. "Australian for 'beer.'"

When it comes to an extinct species of turkey, Progura gallinacea, the campaign may have been more on target than the company realized. The bird was as tall as a kangaroo and unlike modern turkeys, it could fly. The largest specimens found in the fossil record suggest a size of about 15 pounds, which is a goodly weight of flying bird and would have deterred the New England Puritans from feasting on it or doing anything else to irritate it.

But Progura lived in the Pleistocene Era, which ended just under 12,000 years ago, and so did not overlap humans during any period for which we have historical records. Which is probably just as well -- the practice of selling turkey legs at Renaissance fairs to simulate primitive barbarian food would have been significantly more difficult when said legs come from a critter as much as six feet tall.

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