by Catherine B. Parker
Anthropology Department
University of West Florida

Faunal remains from the Santa Rosa Island wreck were collected from ¼-inch mesh hardware screen situated at the outflow of two water-induction dredges. Dredge spoil comprised of sand, sediments, small shell, shell debris, and small artifacts was discharged into heavy-duty mesh bags. These bags were changed as each ten-centimeter level within a particular quadrant was completed, and affixed with a mylar tag providing necessary provenience information. On the surface, workers emptied each bag onto a tray for sorting. Recovered bones and bone fragments were assigned a provenience, placed in individual water-filled resealable plastic bags, and taken to the Conservation Laboratory at the University of West Florida for stabilization, conservation, and analysis.

Analytical Techniques

Following standard zooarchaeological procedures, all faunal remains were identified to the lowest possible taxon using the osteological comparative collection in the Archaeological Research Laboratory at the University. A number of widely-recognized published references were also consulted as needed (Balkwill and Cumbaa 1992; Hillson 1992; Wheeler and Jones 1989; Gilbert 1980; Gilbert, et al 1981; Hillson 1986; Koch 1973; Schmid 1972; Boessneck 1963; Silver 1963; and Briggs 1958).

In order to examine the representation of different taxa in this assemblage, the Number of Identified Specimens (NISP) and the Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI) were used. NISP is the total number of elements present for each identified taxon (Grayson 1984), and represents the maximum number of individuals that may be present in an assemblage. MNI represents the minimum number of individual animals present in the faunal sample (Grayson 1984), based on the number of different skeletal elements present. MNI is deduced by determining the frequency of paired elements, tooth wear, and degree of epiphyseal fusion. For this study, the separate samples were aggregated into one analytical whole, using the “minimum distinction” method (Grayson 1973) which produces a conservative estimate of MNI (Table 1).

Five hundred and thirty-nine specimens were recovered from the Santa Rosa Island wreck, and are presented in Appendix 1. At least 39 taxa are represented in the faunal assemblage, reflecting five vertebrate and three invertebrate classes: Mollusca (mollusks); Cirripedia (barnacles); Malacostraca (crabs, lobsters); Chondrichthyes (cartilaginous fish); Osteichthyes (bony fish); Reptilia (reptiles); Aves (birds); and Mammalia (mammals). Of these 539 elements, 56.02% (n=302) were identified to order, family, genus, or species.

In the total assemblage, mammals predominated (44.2%: n=238), followed closely by fishes (40.6%: n=219). Lesser amounts were contributed by birds (10.4%: n=56), reptiles (0.2%: n=1), and marine invertebrates (0.6%: n=3). The remaining sample consisted of bone fragments which could not be identified to class (4.0%: n=22).


As a result of submersion and burial in Pensacola Bay, the faunal assemblage from the Santa Rosa Island wreck is generally well-preserved. Specimens were collected from both within and without the ship’s surviving structural remains. Some specimens show surface exfoliation, which may be a result of soluble salts crystallization that occurred as the bone dried (Hamilton 1994:15). Most specimens are relatively smooth and unabraded, but some exhibit the rounded edges and roughened surfaces often seen as a result of hydraulic transport and sand abrasion (Lyman 1994: 381-384). These conditions are a constant factor in the dynamic marine environment of the wreck site.

The majority of bones in this sample are stained brown, most likely by marine sediments and by tannin compounds that are continuously deposited into the bay from the Escambia River drainage system to the north.

Certain taphonomic processes affected the physical condition of bones in the Santa Rosa Island wreck assemblage. Some specimens were burned, cutmarked, hackmarked, cut, fractured, or gnawed by rodents. Appendix 2 presents a complete list of these modified specimens.

Six small bone fragments, charred black, could be clearly identified as burned. One specimen was completely incinerated (calcined) to a blue-gray/white color (Shipman, et al 1984: 308). Burning typically results from exposure to extreme heat and/or direct flame. While this may occur during the cooking process, it is more likely a result of discarding bone into the fire after the meat has been removed.

Four mammal bones exhibited hackmarks. These relatively deep, wedge-shaped cuts are generally made during the primary butchering process, when carcasses are separated into smaller, more manageable pieces prior to preserving or cooking. A cleaver, axe, or large heavy knife was commonly used for this task. Three large mammal elements also showed evidence of being cut clean through—very likely by one of the same implements and for the same purpose mentioned above.

Sixteen specimens exhibited small, shallow cutmarks—marks generally made during secondary butchering, when metal knives are used in the process of disarticulation, skinning, and filleting (flesh removal). Three were domestic chicken (Gallus gallus), ten were mammals, and three were bony fishes. On one element from the head of a large drum (Sciaenidae), small cutmarks were accompanied by a deep hackmark. The location of this particular butchering mark is consistent with one or more forceful cuts made in order to remove the fish’s head.

Of the 238 mammal specimens in the sample, eight large mammal bones show some type of breakage. Six elements exhibited angular fractures, which typically occur after the bone has dried and the collagen is largely depleted. Two elements were broken when the bones were fresh and retained a much higher level of collagen, producing the long, curving diagonal break of a spiral fracture. This type break allows easy access to the highly nutritious marrow contained within the bone cavity.
No examples of sawed bone were found in the Santa Rosa Island wreck faunal assemblage. Sawing of meat carcasses did not become commonplace until the end of the eighteenth century (Miville-Deschênes 1987:52).

Fourteen bone fragments from mammal, bird, and fish showed clear evidence of rodent gnawing. Vermin infestations were commonplace in the dock facilities of port cities, in the cargoes, and aboard the sailing vessels themselves. The omnivorous black rats (Rattus rattus) were the largest and one of the most destructive of these unwelcome inhabitants (Phillips 1986:157; Armitage 1993:175), helping themselves to stored provisions and discarded food remains at any and every opportunity.

Of all the clearly identified mammal remains found in the Santa Rosa Island wreck assemblage, bones of the black rat were most numerous (n=39). Adult, sub-adult, and juvenile age classes were represented; MNI was estimated to be four individuals. All rat remains associated with this wreck do not necessarily represent animals which died as the ship was lost. During the vessel’s service career, many rodents must have lived and died in the dark recesses of the ship. While hungry seamen have been known to use rats as food in desperate circumstances (Phillips 1986:157), it is doubtful if the passengers and crew of the Santa Rosa Island wreck had reason to do so.

It is likely that most every sailor in the crew had fish hooks and line among his personal possessions, and could fish when time and weather permitted (Pérez-Mallaína 1998:145; Phillips 1986:162). The single lead fishing weight recovered from the bow area of the shipwreck attests to this possibility (Hunter 2001:118).

Fish remains are abundant in the Santa Rosa Island wreck assemblage. They represent at least ten families of bony fishes and three of cartilaginous fishes (see Appendix 1), all of which can be found in the Gulf of Mexico (Briggs 1958; Shipp 1986). The majority of these remains must be considered as intrusive upon the site and not part of the ship’s provisions. Three elements, however, bore butchering marks and two had been gnawed by rodents—indicating that some fish were used as food (or cut bait) aboard ship, and their bones were available for scavenging by ship’s rats.
One small specimen of turtle in the assemblage is more difficult to interpret. Turtles and tortoises were plentiful in the New World, and were reliable sources of fresh meat. They were often kept alive aboard ship until needed as food, and their flesh could be roasted, boiled, or stewed. Since the carapace fragment in this sample showed no obvious modification, it, too, may be intrusive and unrelated to shipboard diet.

Presence of a common loon (Gavia immer) in the faunal sample is also considered to be intrusive. Loons are almost wholly aquatic birds, and small flocks winter in the bays and inlets of the Gulf Coast. They are not valued by humans as food.

Although Pensacola Bay is not located on a major North American flyway, small flocks of migratory ducks and geese arrive in the fall and winter. Some species are year-round coastal residents. It is unclear whether two elements from the foot of a duck or goose (Anatidae) were food remains discarded aboard ship, or the results of death in or near the water.

The excavated remains of marine invertebrates are considered to be intrusive commensal species which were not used as food by anyone aboard ship.


Meats from Old World domesticated animals, together with a limited number of wild indigenous species, formed an integral part of the preferred diet throughout much of Spanish Colonial America. The ability to obtain these foods was often linked to socioeconomic status and ethnicity (Reitz and Scarry 1985:92-98). Aboard ship, however, even more basic considerations than dietary preference had to be addressed: preservation and transportation.

By the end of the fifteenth century, improved techniques in salting made it possible to keep sailors fed on long oceanic voyages (Goody 1982:154-155). Pork, beef, and certain species of fish could be successfully preserved by salting, drying, smoking, or a combination of these methods. They supplied the basic protein requirements of a shipboard diet. Theoretically, these cured meats remained edible “even under adverse conditions of storage and transport” (Tannahill 1988: 226) for a number of years. This, of course, was the primary objective of military victualling contractors.
If financially able to do so, ship’s officers, passengers, and crew could purchase a variety of foods to supplement the standard preserved rations (Phillips 1985:169). Live animals, including chickens, pigs, cattle, sheep, and goats, often provided fresh meat for a limited time on transoceanic voyages to European and Asian ports, and on shorter voyages between Spanish American ports (Pérez-Mallaína 1998:132; Pearson and Hoffman 1995:163; Super 1988:27; Phillips 1986:162; Tannahill 1988:311). All of the domesticated animals represented in the faunal sample had established niches in the New World and were relatively easy to obtain throughout Spanish America (Cumbaa 1975; Super 1988). Chickens, especially, were commonly carried aboard ship. They were small, easily confined in coops, and could be prepared in a number of ways for the table of the upper classes. More importantly, both the meat and the eggs of chickens played a crucial role in Spanish medicine as part of the dietas, (special foods) for the sick, no matter what their rank (Phillips 1986:97). If a ship happened to take on fresh provisions in stops along the northern Gulf coast, venison might have been acquired by purchase or trade with local suppliers, or by a hunting party from the ship’s crew.

Therefore, it is reasonable to surmise that specimens from the faunal assemblage identified as domesticated cattle (Bos taurus; n=10), pig (Sus scrofa; n=22), goat (Capra hirca; n=2), and chicken (Gallus gallus; n=20), as well as remains of deer (Cervidae; n=1, and cf. Odocoileus virginianus; n=1) represent sources of food remains discarded aboard the Santa Rosa Island wreck. The majority of those mammals for which age could be determined were sub-adults, less than 3 1/2 years old, at time of death. A large portion of the mammalian remains could not be identified beyond the level of class or order; but the majority of these are from Artiodactyls (pig, goat, sheep, deer, or cattle) or other large mammals. Some of this material may be residual bone from preserved meat rations.

Cow remains included bones from carcass sections of high meat yield (shoulder and rib cuts) as well as from the bony extremities. Pig was represented by bones from, quite literally, head to toe—which strongly suggests that one or more was killed and butchered aboard ship. Two elements from deer—an antler fragment and a calcaneus from the lower hind leg—are more difficult to interpret. Both could have been butchering waste, but the antler may also represent raw material to be fashioned into a tool or personal object.

The presence of a young goat aboard the Santa Rosa Island wreck is suggested by bones from both the front and rear lower leg. Since little flesh occurs on the extremities, these specimens were likely butchering or meal preparation waste. Neither bone appeared to be burned or charred at the end, as might be the case if the meat was roasted. In much of Mexico, roasted kid, or cabrito, was—and still is--considered a delicacy. In the islands of the Caribbean, goat meat is more often cut into small pieces for soups and stews.

Feral populations of both pigs and goats were important sources of fresh meat for European ships, even from the early years of conquest and colonization. Breeding pairs were introduced onto uninhabited islands throughout the Caribbean and other coastal areas of the Americas to provide a ready supply of food for hungry or marooned sailors (Crosby 1972:76, 78; Defoe 1719:61, 76; Souhami 2001:24, 41).

In a Spanish colonial ship comparable in size to the Santa Rosa Island wreck, food supplies were generally stored below deck from amidships toward the bow of the vessel. The ship’s galley, where food was prepared and cooked, was normally located in the bow (Hunter 2001:159, 167). When the positively identified specimens of cow, pig, goat, chicken, and black rat were plotted on the grid coordinates of the overall site plan, 85 of the 93 elements (91.4%) were located in the amidships or bow areas of the surviving structure.

There is no doubt that the relentless sun and humidity of colonial Spanish America contributed to rapid deterioration of wooden ships and the provisions they carried. In spite of these hardships, early sailors have been described as “fiercely resistant” to change—including changes in diet. Many apparently had a definite preference for tough, rancid, salted meat rather than fresh meat (Milton-Thompson 1981:29). But long after her last, disastrous voyage, evidence from the faunal assemblage of the Santa Rosa Island wreck tells us that when fresh meat was available, those aboard followed a traditional Spanish/European diet based on the meat of domesticated animals, supplemented by acceptable wild species of the New World. For those of rank, at least, a savory roast or fresh stew was an occasional respite from the usual shipboard rations.


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Estimated Minimum Numbers of Individuals for Selected Taxa
Mammalia Bos taurus Cow
  Sus scrofa Pig
  Capra hirca Goat
  cf. Odocoileus virginianus Probable White-tailed Deer
  Rattus rattus Black rat
Aves Gallus gallus Chicken
  Anatidae Duck or Goose
  Gavia immer Common Loon
Reptilia Cheloniidae Unidentified Turtle
Chondrichthyes Rajiformes Skate/Ray
  Carcharhinidae Requiem Shark
  Isurus oxyrinchus Shortfin Mako Shark
Osteichthyes Archosargus probatocephalus Sheepshead
  Arius felis Hardhead Sea Catfish
  Balistes capriscus Gray Triggerfish
  Caranx hippos Jack crevalle
  Chilomycterus schoepfi Striped Burrfish
  Cynoscion nebulosus Spotted Seatrout
  Lagodon rhomboides Pinfish
  Lutjanus campechanus Red Snapper
  Menticirrus littorallis Gulf Kingfish
  Micropogonias undulatus Atlantic Croaker
  Mugil spp. Mullet
  Paralichthys spp. Left-eyed Flounder
  Sciaenops ocellata Red Drum

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