Identifying high-status foods in the archeological record

L. Antonio Curet, William J. Pestle

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


More than providing simply nutritive value, food in human societies can be endowed with great social weight. Aspects of any given food system inform, and are informed by, a variety of social, economic, religious, historical, ecological, cultural, and political processes. Moreover, food systems are often intentionally designed and executed to communicate key aspects of a consumer's identity including class or social status. The manipulation of food systems on the part of socio-political elites or high status individuals is but one example of this phenomenon, the appearance of which is a correlate of increased socio-political hierarchy. As food can come to be used by elites as a socio-political tool in stratified societies, the temptation to use archeologically recognizable differences in foodways as a means of understanding the origin, nature, and functioning of processes of stratification is strong. The obvious difficulty lies in developing theoretically informed methods that reckon food system differences in ways that enable scholars to identify those foods that may have been particularly imbued with social meaning. In this paper, we propose a metric for the identification of elite foods (or, indeed, socially valued foods) using the types of data typically available to archeologists. Based on these proposed criteria, we attempt to unravel the complex and politically charged food system of the stratified societies of the pre-Columbian Greater Antilles with an eye towards refining our understanding of the development and maintenance of prestige and institutionalized power therein.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)413-431
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Caribbean
  • Elite
  • Food
  • High status
  • Puerto Rico
  • Social value

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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