Archaeology Log : Brittany Mistretta : Zooarchaeology : October 2022

An analysis of cultural materials from archaeological excavations have identified food remains from a newly identified pre-Taíno village site (AD 460-842) in the Virgin Islands National Park. Dr. Brittany Mistretta is an archaeologist who specializes in zooarchaeology- the study of animal bones from archaeology sites. 

Brittany received her PhD in 2021 from the University of Florida. She conducted zooarchaeological analysis of materials from the Cinnamon Bay Beach site for her dissertation research. Her dissertation work was funded by the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park as part of the National Park Service archaeology intern program directed by the park’s Archaeologist, Ken Wild. Ken invited Brittany to return to St. John to analyze animal bones recovered during 2021 archaeology excavations at the Cinnamon Bay Cottages. 

Results from Brittany’s zooarchaeological analysis reveal that people living at the pre-Taíno village had a diet that consisted of mostly marine resources, such as a variety of fish and shellfish. Many of the identified marine species are still found living in offshore reefs and commonly eaten today including whelk, conch, grouper, snapper, and the island delicacy triggerfish, also known locally as Old Wife. Other identified foods include parrotfish, iguana, and sea turtle. Although they are not dish commonly served at your local restaurant, these were important food resources for pre-Taíno people. 

Birds were also eaten at the Cinnamon Bay Cottage village site. Today chicken is a diet staple found in many island dishes, but chicken wasn’t introduced until Europeans colonized the Caribbean. Pre-Taíno people at Cinnamon Bay hunted local birds including rails, herons, and West Indian whistling duck. This is the first time some of these birds have been found at an archaeology site on St. John.

Learn more about archeaology in the park here.