Shell Middens and Sea Level Rise: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future

Author(s): Leslie Reeder-Myers; Torben Rick

Year: 2017


Shell middens, like other forms of coastal cultural heritage, are heavily threatened by sea level rise, climate change, and human land use. These sites, however, store information about these same challenges in the past. We present results from recent research near the mouth of the Rhode River, a small sub-estuary of Chesapeake Bay in eastern North America. We chose an area we knew well, having worked on the 31 previously recorded shell middens, to test the importance of more specialized techniques aimed at rapidly assessing and mitigating loss of shell middens. We employed a three-step process—modeling to understand the distribution of threats, targeted survey to locate sites, and radiocarbon dating to understand the timing of settlement. We relocated eight sites believed to be lost to sea level rise and identified 16 new sites using specialized survey techniques, including survey by kayak during extreme winter low tides. Through extensive radiocarbon dating, were able to refine our previous conclusions about settlement in this region, including the elimination of an apparent settlement gap between the Late Woodland and Historic periods. Our results suggest that similar survey techniques may be a valuable addition to research strategies along submerging coastlines around the world.

Cite this Record

Shell Middens and Sea Level Rise: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. Leslie Reeder-Myers, Torben Rick. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431042)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -84.067; min lat: 36.031 ; max long: -72.026; max lat: 43.325 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 16635