3. Archaeological applications and distributional implications

Recently, modern comparative skeletons and the characteristics discussed above were used to identify redear sunfish bones from the Range site in St Clair County, Illinois (Kelly 1980) (see location in Figure 1). The multicomponent Range site is situated in the American Bottom, an archaeologically rich area in the Mississippi River floodplain, east of St Louis, Missouri. To date, 18 elements from Range have been identified as redear, while a minimum of eight individuals are represented among the eight parasphenoids and ten pharyngeal arches. The elements were excavated from the fill of an Emergent Mississippian (Lindeman phase, AD 950-1000) pit house. Overall species composition of fish, based on Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI), is as follows: 60.6% Centrarchidae, 13.5% Ictaluridae, 12.5% Catostomidae, 6.7% Lepisosteidae and Amiidae, and 6.7% miscellaneous taxa such as Esox sp., Cyprinidae, Morone sp., Stizostedion sp., and Perca flavescens.

Although redear bones comprise only a small percentage of the total number of fish bones, the presence of this species provides paleoecological data. In this case, redear remains, in concert with a predominance of centrarchids in the assemblage, may indicate exploitation of a clear well-vegetated swamp, bottomland lake, or slow-moving creek.

To date, a single element of redear has been identified from the Smiling Dan site in Scott County, Illinois (near the Illinois River, see Figure 1) (Styles et al. 1985). Tentative identifications have been made on material from a site in Fulton County, Illinois, and from a site in Lincoln County, Missouri (north-west of St Louis). An extensive survey of Illinois site reports has yielded no other identified specimens prior to this study.

Because the redear's occurrence at the Range site, and possibly at other archaeological sites, places the species north of its native range, environmental implications may be drawn. For example, redear may prove to be an indicator of a time when water temperatures were warmer, given that it grows best in water that is around 75°F, and that it falls prey to sudden changes in temperature (Emig 1966, 393, citing Rounsefell and Everhart 1953). Alternatively, geomorphological changes may be responsible for a decline of redear in Illinois. Additional samples are needed before we can ascertain the magnitude of change in the redear's distribution and the degree to which ecological and climatic factors may have influenced the redear sunfish and its environment.

Further complicating the issue of distribution is the question of whether or not the species is native to Illinois. In his 1979 book The Fishes of Illinois, Smith considers the redear to be a native species with a sporadic occurrence. He maps pre-1908 records based on Forbes and Richardson's (1908, LXXXIV) collection of five specimens from the Wabash Basin (in south-eastern Illinois) and one from the Cairo District (in southern Illinois). Forbes and Richardson (1908, LXXXIX-CX) state that redear did not occur in the Illinois River or its tributaries.

A few authors believe that redear were introduced into Illinois. Foremost among them (and perhaps the originator of this idea) was George Bennett, a former head of the Aquatic Biology Section at the Illinois Natural History Survey. Bennett (1958, 177) thought that redear "were not reported from Illinois prior to 1945", and that all redear now found in the state "originated from the twelve fish released in the pond near Danville (east-central Illinois)" in the spring of 1946.

One explanation might be that at the time he published his 1958 report, Bennett may not have realized that, due to changed nomenclature, the redear sunfish under the name of Lepomis microlophus was the same as Forbes and Richardson's Eupomotis heros. In the 1935 Natural History Survey's list of Illinois fishes, O'Donnell (1935, 487) still used the old name E. heros. But this would mean that Childers was still unaware of the synonymy in 1967 when he published a study of sunfish hybridization in which he reiterated Bennett's 1958 claim that Lepomis microlophus was introduced.

In defence of Bennett and Childers, the new name was in use at the time they were working. For example, in 1947 Hubbs and Lagler used the name Lepomis microlophus for the western shellcracker. Coates and Atz (1954) referred to the redear sunfish as Lepomis microlophus. Larimore and Smith (1963), and Smith (1965) were aware of the synonymy when they surveyed the fishes of Champaign County.

4. Conclusions

All told, it is clear that the redear has been rare and sporadic in its recent history in Illinois. This appears to have been the case in prehistoric times as well.

The ability to make species level identifications of archaeological or paleontological remains can enhance reconstructions of dietary practices and of paleoecological conditions. It is hoped that researchers, whether ichthyologists or faunal analysts, unfamiliar with the osteology of the redear or with limited access to specimens, will find the illustrations helpful in distinguishing the qualitative differences noted. Zooarchaeologists are encouraged to put forth the extra effort required to identify fish below family level (the point at which many researchers stop) so that as many data can be gleaned from the remains as possible.


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Last updated: Thu Aug 14 1997