Shell middens are cultural deposits that contain considerable quantities of shellfish refuse (hard and soft clams, oysters, and scallops, etc.) usually associated with stone and/or ceramic artifacts, animal bones and pit features.
The shell midden deposit has been of interest to archaeologists, formally, since 1849 when Worsaae convinced Steenstrup that the Danish sites were cultural refuse heaps rather than natural shell beds (Bibby 1956: 118).
Though kitchen middens, shell heaps, mounds, sambaquis, and other named shell deposits have been recognized and excavated around the world ever since – and served as data for important theories – the specific behaviors and processes responsible for their formation and subsequent transformation remain poorly known. 1
“The shell heaps or Indian mounds on the south side of Long Island, so long the marvel of the native people, are beginning to attract the attention of scientists, several wise-looking individuals have been seen exploring them recently…these accumulations of shells were the results of wampum manufacturers.”
-Daniel Melancthon Tredwell, Personal Reminiscences of Men and Things, published 1912. Journal entry from Tuesday, April 12, 1859. pp 259
- Lynn Cici, Shell Midden Deposits as Coastal Resources, World Archaeology Volume 16 No. 1, 1984 pp. 63
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