From the Sea to the Smoker: A History of Sea Turtle Exploitation on St. George's Caye, Belize




Bentley, J. Heath

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Historic literature frequently mentions the exploitation of sea turtles throughout the Caribbean by indigenous populations and early settlers alike. Large and abundant, these animals provided a readily accessible protein source for European and African populations as they traveled and inhabited coastal and island settlements. An exploration of documents held by the Belize Archives and Records Service reveals that sea turtle capture and sale was once a sufficient contributor to Belize’s coastal economy. Commonly called “turtlers”, 25% of the population was involved in the capture and sale of sea turtles by the late 18th century. Offshore reconnaissance during the 2014 field season of the St. George’s Caye Archaeology Project located and recovered sea turtle remains from at least two of four turtle corrals that were documented on a 1764 map. An analysis of the faunal material recovered from the island since 2009 indicated that 74.6% of the number of identified specimens comprised at least two different species of marine turtle. Turtle species varied in their preference by people as a food item, the method of capture used, and their role in the economy. The analysis of the distribution of turtle bone across the island has given us insight into which species were held in the respective corrals.



archaeology, Belize, St. George's Caye, sea Turtles, turtling


Bentley, J. H. (2016). From the sea to the smoker: A history of sea turtle exploitation on St. George's Caye, Belize (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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