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Ancient DNA Identification of Giant Snakehead (Channa micropeltes) Remains from the Market Street Chinatown and Some Implications for the Nineteenth-Century Pacific World Fish Trade

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 October 2021

J. Ryan Kennedy*
Department of Anthropology, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA, USA
Brittany Bingham
Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research, Norman, OK, USA
Mary Faith Flores
Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research, Norman, OK, USA
Brian M. Kemp
Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research, Norman, OK, 73072, USA; Department of Anthropology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, USA
(, corresponding author)


This study presents the results of ancient DNA analyses of eight snakehead (Channa sp.) bones from the Market Street Chinatown, a nineteenth-century Chinese diaspora archaeological site in San Jose, California. The sequences of a short stretch of the mitochondrial DNA identify the Market Street Chinatown snakeheads as Giant Snakehead (Channa micropeltes), a species native to Southeast Asia. These results provide the first archaeological evidence of the nineteenth-century trade of Asian freshwater fishes to North America, and they reveal that preserved fish products from throughout the Pacific World were readily distributed across the Chinese diaspora. We place our findings within the broader context of nineteenth-century Chinese migration to show how the common Chinese small shareholding business model and access to trade connections facilitated by Chinese-operated import/export firms known as jinshanzhuang allowed Chinese fishers to be successful across the Pacific World. Finally, we suggest avenues for future study by comparing Chinese migration-based, flexible fishing strategies using generalist methods with the highly specialized collection and trade of species like Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua) in the North Atlantic.

Este estudio presenta los resultados de análisis de ADN antiguo de ocho huesos de cabezas de serpiente (Channa sp.) de Market Street Chinatown, un sitio arqueológico de la diáspora china del siglo XIX en San José, California. Las secuencias de un tramo corto del ADN mitocondrial (ADNmt) identifican las cabezas de serpiente de Market Street Chinatown como la cabeza de serpiente gigante (Channa micropeltes), una especie nativa del sudeste de Asia. Estos resultados proveen la primera evidencia arqueológica del intercambio del siglo XIX de peces asiáticos de agua dulce a América del Norte y revelan que los productos de pescado del mundo Pacífico se distribuyeron fácilmente en la diáspora china. Situamos nuestros hallazgos dentro del contexto más amplio de la migración china del siglo XIX para mostrar cómo el modelo de negocio común de pequeños accionarios chinos y el acceso a las conexiones comerciales facilitado por las empresas de importación / exportación operadas por China conocidas como jinshanzhuang permitieron a los pescadores chinos tener éxito en todo el mundo Pacífico. Finalmente, sugerimos direcciones para estudios futuros de comparar estrategias de pesca flexibles basadas en la migración china que utilizan métodos generales con la recolección especializada y el comercio de especies tal como el bacalao del Atlántico (Gadus morhua) en el norte del Atlántico.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Society for American Archaeology

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