Shell Middens in North America

  • Katharine KirakosianEmail author
Living reference work entry


Sites classified as shell middens have been identified by archaeologists on every inhabited continent and in every coastal area throughout the world since the mid-nineteenth century (Claassen 1998). Considering the high calcium content of shellfish remains, shell middens often contain amazingly preserved organic materials such as bone and textiles. They often have incredibly complex stratigraphic sequences as well, which helps to understand their usage over time. Given their high visibility and the fact that they are often threatened by erosion and development, shell midden sites are currently being destroyed at increasing rates.

Since shellfish beds (and essentially shell middens) are reliant upon stabilized sea levels, most shell midden sites date between 10,000 and 300 years ago. However, the frequency of shell midden sites throughout the world varies widely and is often connected to the presence of hunter-gatherer groups within a given region (Allen 2017) here. For...

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Massachusetts AmherstAmherstUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Ndukukhaye Ndlovu
    • 1
  1. 1.Newcastle UniversityNewcastleUK