Barbara Voorhies & Natalia Martínez-Tagüeña

The Marsh Clam Almejeros of Costa Rica: An Ethnoarchaeological Study of a Costa Rican Artisanal Clam Fishery

Between approximately 3000 - 7000 years ago the ancient Chantuto people of Chiapas formed massive shell mounds at clam processing sites. These logistical sites likely were positioned at the edges of coastal lagoons where the clams, fish and probably shrimp once were procured. Archaeological evidence at the shell mounds has revealed diachronic patterns in technology, seasonality of site use, human-plant interactions, and fishing practices over a 4,000 year duration of site formation but questions remain about the impacts of human predation on the clam populations. Our ethnoarchaeological investigations of a contemporary clam fishery in Costa Rica provide an opportunity to explore further the relationship between human predators and populations of marsh clams. These investigations focus on the Almejeros’ procurement strategies, the spatial arrangement of their procurement and processing locations, site formation processes, and the economics of the modern industry. Despite the fact that the Costa Rican fishery is embedded in a commercial economy we note that certain of its attributes conform to expectations derived from Optimal Foraging theory.

Keywords: artisanal clam industry, ethnoarchaeology, Costa Rica, Polymesoda sp.

Figure: Natalia Martínez-Tagüeña interviewing Don Gaspar and Fredi at the El Torno clam processing site (© Barbara Voorhies).