Charleston, South Carolina (USA): A Case Study in Using Fish as Evidence of Social Status

Author(s): Elizabeth Reitz

Year: 2016


Charleston (South Carolina, USA) was founded in A.D. 1670 on the southeastern Atlantic coast of North America. The city’s archaeological record can be divided into four periods: 1710-1750, 1750-1820, 1820-1850, and 1850-1900. Fishes were used by all social strata in Charleston. The minimum number of fish individuals fluctuates between 22% and 30% of the non-commensal individuals and the number of taxa ranges from 44% to 49%. A core group of estuarine fishes was used throughout the city’s history by all social groups. These were animals that could be captured from shallow, brackish waters using relatively simple gear. Social distinctions are subtle, but after the 1710-1750 period, assemblages from elite townhouses are richer and more diverse than are assemblages from sites occupied by people of lower status. This higher diversity was achieved by using fishes infrequently used by other social groups, ones that were, perhaps, more costly to acquire. Most fish individuals were taken from trophic levels 3.4 and 3.5 regardless of time period, status, or site function. Thus, we find in Charleston’s archaeological record evidence that fishes were important in the local economy and cuisine and that social distinctions are reflected in fish remains.

Cite this Record

Charleston, South Carolina (USA): A Case Study in Using Fish as Evidence of Social Status. Elizabeth Reitz. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 404228)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -91.274; min lat: 24.847 ; max long: -72.642; max lat: 36.386 ;