- James Egnor, Ancient Greek and Roman Studies, University of Delaware
- Jay Custer, Anthropology, University of Delaware
On the Half Shell: A Novel Zooarchaeological Approach Utilizing Oyster Shells as a Marker in Determining Socio-Economic Status at Sites in the Chesapeake Bay Region of the 1600-1700’s
Initial attention of this study was focused upon an in-depth literature review of the culinary habits and foodways of the early English colonists as well as those of indentured servants and slaves with particular attention as to the historical preparation of oysters in their respective diets. My preliminary research question was whether cursory macroscopic evaluation of oyster shells found at archaeological sites populated along the Chesapeake Bay in the 17th-18th centuries could be used as another analytical method to determine class and cultural identities of those individuals who inhabited those settings. That, in my readings, there appeared to be no archaeological studies related to this topic gave impetus to this project. Primary data collection was focused upon shell specimens held by the University of Delaware from the Queenstown, Maryland “My Lord’s Gift” site as a control group. Representative shell samples were evaluated based upon visible evidence as to manners of culinary preparation, i.e., roasting, shucking, or the lack of any associated markings. Further observations of oyster shells uncovered in features at other contemporary colonial excavations in the Bay region found cooking-based markings similar to those at Queenstown. Coupled with known archaeological and historical scholarship as to the class structure of already studied sites, my findings seem to validate that oyster shells and how they were cooked can supplement, or possibly refute, the assumed socio-economic and cultural demographics of a particular location.