M.A. Theses: Robert James Muckle, 1986

Archaeological Considerations of Bivalve Shell Taphonomy.

In order to aid interpretation of shell midden stratigraphy, this thesis examines the sedimentary behaviour of bivalve mollusk shells during and after their initial deposition in archaeological sites. Attention is focused on the archaeological significance of shell orientation, fragmentation, disarticulation, vertical displacement, and chemical weathering.

The methodology of the research includes a general overview of archaeological interests in bivalve mollusks, a review of pertinent literature on the sedimentary behaviour of shells, experiments involving the cultural discard of shells and human trampling on shell deposits, and an analysis of sediments from two Northwest Coast archaeological sites.

The main conclusion of the research is that accurate interpretations of shell midden stratigraphy depend not only on an understanding of past cultural behaviour, but also on an appreciation of the behaviour of shells as sedimentary particles. The value of using the sedimentary properties of shell in archaeological analysis is restricted by several theoretical and methodological problems. It is clear, however, that an understanding of bivalve shell taphonomy can be used to (i) increase the reliability of behavioural and environmental inferences supported by shell analysis, (ii) aid the identification of specific activity areas (e.g. secondary refuse deposits of shell), and (iii) assess the level of post-depositional disturbance in shell deposits.