Shell Midden Microarchaeology Unraveled

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 81st Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL (2016)

Shell middens are complex anthropic constructions crossing many chronologies and territories. They are one of the most important contexts to interpret the formation of the archaeological record and have been associated with different human activities around the world. Therefore, for such complex deposits, micro-scale analyses are of the utmost importance to better understand site formation, site function, human behavior, paleogeography and paleoenvironment.

The archaeological record goes beyond what is seen with the naked eye and is a more complex reality where the minutiae are important sources of information. This approach is increasingly interdisciplinary with contributions from biology, geology, chemistry, and even physics. One of the greatest obstacles has been the difficulty of integrating macro- and microscopic records, which has been alleviated by a new generation of archaeologists specializing in geoarchaeology (micromorphology, geochemistry), zooarchaeology (sclerochronology, isotopes), archaeobotany (charcoal, seed, fruit, pollen and phytoliths), residue analysis and use-wear.

Site formation and function are universal questions to all shell middens, regardless of their different chronologies and locations. We aim to bring together different methodological approaches to the study of the archaeological record in order to illuminate the singular source of information that shell middens are.

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  • Documents (7)

  • Carbonate microfacies in shell middens of northern Iberia: implications for Holocene environment and Mesolithic settlement (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Carlos Duarte. Eneko Iriarte. Igor Gutiérrez-Zugasti. Pablo Arias.

    In the Cantabrian region (northern Spain) the exploitation of marine resources is well known. This is especially true during the Mesolithic, as attested by the particular record of carbonate-cemented shell middens in caves and rockshelters, although only a few sites have shell middens in stratigraphic position, allowing archaeological excavation. Recent investigations at three sites, El Alloru, El Mazo and La Fragua, demonstrated that these deposits record a complex accumulation of calcium...

  • Charcoal analyses unraveling Cabeço da Amoreira Muge shell midden (Portugal) (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Patrícia Monteiro. Laura Caruso Fermé. Nuno Bicho.

    Cabeço da Amoreira is a Mesolithic shell midden located near the Tagus river, 60 km from Lisbon, central Portugal. Charcoal analyses are an important tool to identify the wood used for fuel and therefore, understand the relationships between human societies and their landscape. Charcoal is abundant in the Cabeço da Amoreira shell midden. It is present in every context of the site, being part of its occupation horizons and formation processes. Here we present the results from charcoal analyses...

  • Cortical bone loss in the human skeletons recovered from the 21st century excavations of Cabeço da Amoreira shell midden (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Cláudia Umbelino. Francisco Francisco Curate. Teresa Ferreira. Eugénia Cunha. Nuno Bicho.

    Bone loss has been extensively evaluated in archaeological samples, adding diachronic complexity to the biomedical knowledge about skeletal changes associated with gender, age, genetics, menopausal status or lifestyle. In this paper, the first results of Portuguese Mesolithic cortical bone loss are presented. Radiogrammetry of the second metacarpal was used to assess cortical parameters (diaphysis total width, medullary width and cortical index). The classical osteoporotic fractures (vertebral...

  • Investigating Plant Management in the Tucumã (Pará-Brazil) and Monte Castelo (Rondônia- Brazil) Shell Midden using Phytoliths Analysis (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lautaro Maximilian Hilbert. José Iriarte. Eduardo Góes Neves. Francisco Pugliese.

    This paper will address and evaluate the micro botanical remains of the Monte Castelo (9343 calB.P) shell mound in southwestern lowland Amazonia (state of Rondonia) and the sambaqui do Tucumã (7.000 -4.000 B.P) located on the southeast lower Amazon River (state of Para). The focus in identifying and evaluating the floral dietary peculiarities of these specific pre-Colombian settlements from the principle that the south and southeast Brazilian shell mound occupants are known to have had a...

  • Phytolith analysis in Sernambetiba shell mound, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jorge Mateus. Rita Scheel-Ybert.

    Phytoliths are an important evidence for archaeology to address the behavior of ancient human societies, specifically their relation with botanical contexts. As with any other archaeological material, it is important to assess the preservation of these silica structures, understanding the process of degradation and dissolution that affects them. One of the factors cited in the literature as responsible for the degradation of phytoliths is the alkaline condition of sediments. Humid tropical...

  • Secrets from Within the Shell: Exploring the Differences between Shell-Bearing and Shell-Free Deposits at 40DV307 along the Cumberland River, Tennessee, USA. (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Stephen Carmody. D. Shane Miller. Thaddeus Bissett. Lydia D. Carmody. David G. Anderson.

    The Bell Site is a multicomponent prehistoric site located along the Cumberland River in Central Tennessee. Archaeological fieldwork conducted in the summer of 2010 and 2012, including riverbank profiling, auger testing, unit excavation, and column sampling, revealed a long and dynamic occupational history of the site. Here, we integrate multiple lines of evidence including paleoethnobotany, zooarchaeology, and geoarchaeology, to unravel the site's complex (pre)history and explore the functional...

  • The use of fish vertebrae and otoliths for sclerochronological analysis of a Mesolithic Shell midden: advantages and limitations. (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Rita Dias. Cleia Detry. Nuno Bicho.

    The onset of the Holocene in the Iberian Atlantic coast is associated with the appearance of the Mesolithic shell middens, which reflected new subsistence patterns that have been commonly characterized by the intensification of aquatic resources exploitation. Recently, sclerochronological analysis of shell midden faunal remains has been seen as fundamental to infer climatic and environmental changes, human settlement, resource exploitation and seasonal occupation. However, fish bone and...