Photo of snail shells

Unfortunately, de Vaca did not indicate the kind of snail eaten. Other evidence comes from the dry cave sites of the Lower Pecos, where bits of snail shells were found in human coprolites, but again these findings are inconclusive as to the type of snail. Like most snails, Rabdotus would have been a source of low-fat protein. Also, they are relatively large and could have been collected easily in the warm months of the year when they are most active, and they can be quick-boiled to retrieve their meat. Several Texas archeologists, including Dr. Tom Hester and T. C. Hill, as reported in their 1975 article in the publication, Nautilus, have shown through experiments that boiling is the best means of extracting snail meat. As part of his analysis of the snails recovered from the Smith Creek Bridge site in DeWitt County, Kenneth M. Brown of the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory provides a comprehensive discussion of the arguments for and against the use of the Rabdotus snails as food. He concedes that the question will not be totally resolved until better information about the lifeways of this snail are known. But, he  suggests gathering and comparing snail samples from archeological sites and from places that are not on sites as a helpful start in resolving this question. Part of this comparison would include looking for juvenile snails. It is likely that snails collected by prehistoric Native Americans would be limited to the large, easily gathered adult snails. Therefore, archeological samples lacking juvenile snails would indicate selection for food, while off-site samples should show the natural frequency of juveniles to adults. At the J. B White site, archeologists collected 12,842 Rabdotus snail shells. Most were mixed within concentrations of freshwater mussel shells, though an isolated group of 2,734 snails was found and designated Feature 17. An analyst measured the size of some of the snails from this feature, and this revealed that almost all of the snails were adults. As suggested by Brown, the field crew also collected soil samples away from the main refuse deposits at the site to look for a natural sample of snails. Rabdotus snails were not common within these samples. Only 29 Rabdotus shells were among the  3,800 snails recovered. Of the Rabdotus identified, 20 were juvenile snails, suggesting that in natural samples juveniles are likely to outnumber adults. These natural samples indicate that the site area was never a hospitable habitat for Rabdotus snails. The high numbers of adult shells in the site features, especially Feature 17, must indicate intentional collection of snails.

Close Window