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  Lamanai/Pacbitun: Pomacea and Jute Snails -- Starvation Food or Ritual Feast?
  Role: Archaeologist/Zooarchaeologist  

Did the ancient Maya enjoy a good meal of escargot occasionally?

Is this the explanation for the recovery of literally millions of freshwater snails in archaeological deposits in Belize and Guatemala? It would be an excellent explanation if the only deposits they were found in were garbage heaps or middens. But archaeologists have discovered that sometimes the most enormous accumulations are found in ritual deposits – in caches or on top of ballcourt markers in the center of playing fields. I have spent several years doing population and morphological research on two different gastropods (Pomacea flagellata or the apple snail, and Pachychilus spp. or the jute) to discover size changes over time that might be attributed to the effects of environmental changes, harvest pressure, or selection of dietary favourites. We do indeed see changes in both size and shape of these two types of snails over time, but does this change indicate that the snails were being harvested at rates that were severe enough to change the genetics of the populations? Or does this change indicate the effects of changing climatic conditions? Only further research will answer that question...

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