By David Black, UNB–Anthropology
As a self-described paleoethnomalacologist, one of my chief obsessions in archaeology is human interactions with shellfish in the past. When we began excavating AlDf-24 this summer, Matt Betts and I believed that the shell content on the midden was composed almost completely of soft-shelled clams (steamer clams) collected by ancient Mi’kmaq people as food, and shucked on the midden— their shells discarded to form the mound we see today. The one midden sample I have completely sorted so far reinforces this belief; by volume, it is composed of soft-shelled clamshells (90%) and black soil (10%).
However, as so often is the case in archaeology, the story is not that simple. Over the past two weeks of excavation I have kept a running list of shellfish species identified in the midden as we excavate. The number of species now stands at ten:
1) soft-shelled (steamer) clam (Mya arenaria)
2) Atlantic surf clam (Spisula solidissima)
3) blue (edible) mussel (Mytilus edulis)
4) common razor clam (Ensis directus)
5) northern moon snail (Lunatia heros)
6) northern (waved) whelk (Buccinum undatum)
a sea urchin
7) green sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis)
and (at least) three species on land snails
8) a garden snail (probably Helicidae)
9) a disc snail (probably Discidae)
10) an amber snail (probably Succineidae)
… I expect more.
Part of my work with the E’se’get Archaeology Project will be considering how each of these shellfish species came to be part of the midden and what their presence can tell us about past human behaviour and the environments that ancestral Mi’kmaq lived in.