Spotting a sea turtle or Galapagos tortoise on the early wharfs and streets of San Francisco or Sacramento, California during the Gold Rush (1848-1855) would not have been a rare event. Massive population influx into the San Francisco Bay region during this time resulted in substantial impacts to native species and habitats of all taxa, but the demand for food resulted in many resources, turtles and tortoises included, being imported into the cities. Providing a fresh and delectable food source, these terrapin were brought to San Francisco and Sacramento to feed the hungry Gold Rush populous. Their taste, popularity and demand also resulted in small numbers being imported into gold mining towns in the San Joaquin Valley and foothills of the Sierra Nevada’s. Remarkable as this process was, the consumption and importation of both sea turtles and Galapagos tortoises during the Gold Rush pushed native populations of these species to the brink of extinction during the mid to late-nineteenth century. Declining numbers of terrapin and increased scientific curiosity, with a desire to safeguard these creatures for future generations, resulted in their eventually legal protection and conservation. In many ways the impacts of the decimation of terrapin in the eastern Pacific during the Gold Rush are still felt today, as conservation and breeding efforts continue in an attempt to return native turtle and tortoise populations to pre-Euro-American contact levels. This research describes the historical, and new archaeofaunal, evidence of the terrapin import market in San Francisco, Sacramento and beyond during the dynamic period of the California Gold Rush.

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