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Food procurement and preparation

Submitted by mccaffer on Sun, 02/03/2008 - 7:55am

Several artifact classes relate to hunting and fishing activities, while others pertain to the processing of vegetable foods.  Nearly 100 projectile point fragments were found at Santa Isabel.  There were generally made of white or red cherts--there seems to have been a preference for red chert for larger tools. 

White chert points     Red chert points

White chert points                                                  Red chert points

Another artifact class likely used for hunting was ceramic balls.  These measure about 1 cm in diameter and are relatively symmetrical.  They were probably used as blow-gun projectiles, as they closely resemble the pellets described from ethnohistorical and ethnographic parallels.  They can be distinguished from 'rattle-balls' found inside hollow vessel supports, which are smaller and less symmetrical.

Clay balls

Clay balls as blow-gun pellets

Since fish were the major faunal resource exploited by the inhabitants of Santa Isabel, fishing tools were prominent artifacts.  Hundreds of worked sherds were found with notches so that they could be attached to fishing nets.  They were ubiquitous throughout the site, and appeared in different shapes and sizes.  Another artifact class relating to fishing were delicate bone fish hooks.

net weights     Fish hooks

Net weights                                                                       Bone fish hooks

Andesite axes and hoes were probably used for clearing the forest and underbrush for agricultural fields.  Research in underway to extract organic materials from the edges of these object to better identify their precise function. 

Andesite choppers     Andesite axe

Andesite choppers                                                            Andesite axe

The most abundant lithic tool type was a small micro-blade which we called 'raspaditas,' or "little scrapers."  These were made of the white chert and consisted of a flat proximal end and distal edge worked to a point.  Raspaditas average about 1 cm in length and somewhat less in width.  In a detailed study under a scanning electron microscope, Jolene Debert (2005; Debert and Sheriff 2007) found that the pointed, distal end was relatively unused, but did have markings suggesting hafting.  The blunter, proximal end, however, did feature use-wear suggesting that it was used for scraping, perhaps vegetable material.  Using ethnographic analogy, this pattern would be consistent with microliths set into wooden grater boards used by Chibchan groups to grate manioc to produce flour.  It should be noted that Debert and Sheriff (2007) concluded that manioc was not the most likely material processed; further studies are attempting to identify the starch grains found on the grater blades.


Chert raspaditas


Replica grater board

Replica grater board (by Juan Bosco Moroney Ubeda)

Ground stone basalt grinding stones were also found that closely resemble the manos and metates found in central Mexico.  Manos are roughly cylindrica and measure about 6-8 cm in diameter; the longest fragment was about 20 cm in length.  They will often have one or more surfaces showing a greater degree of wear.  Metates have a flat grinding surface that shows use-polish.  They measured about 2-6 cm in thickness, with greater use-life inferred from thinner examples.  It is unknown how big the complete metates were, and the largest fragments were rarely larger than 15 x15 cm.  When all of the metate fragments were placed together on a lab table they did not take up much more than 1 m2 in area, suggesting that not all housholds would have possessed a metate, or that they may not have been deposited with other household debris.  For example, carved metates are often found in cemetery contexts.  Most of the Santa Isabel metate fragments were uncarved, though rare examples of carved metates were found.

metate fragment     Mano fragments

Metate fragment                                       Mano fragments

Another indicator of past food preparation is found in utilitarian pottery.  The inhabitants of Santa Isabel prepared liquid foods in large open-orifice pots (casuelas), or in constricted orifice vessels (ollas).  These vessels were made out of either the Sacasa or Tolesmaida ceramic types.  Surprisingly, based on the research design of finding evidence for Mesoamerican cultural groups, no comales were found.  Comales are large ceramic griddles used for heating tortillas (though other food types are also toasted on comales).  This contrasts with the expectation based on the ethnohistorical descriptions and a depiction of women preparing possible tortillas on comales.

Tortilla making

Tortilla making on comal (from Benzoni)


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