Coastal shell middens represent a well-known element of the archaeological record of island and coastal regions across the world and shellfish have been an important resource for subsistence since the mid Holocene. However, the factors that influence shell-fishing remain poorly understood and in many regions investigations into the role of shellfish gathering have often remained focused on prehistoric examples to the detriment of shell middens of later dates. This article reports on the emerging evidence for large-scale exploitation of shellfish during a hitherto understudied period for shell midden archaeology in Northwest Europe: the first millennium AD. The article includes a review of a series of previously unknown large mussel-dominated middens in eastern Scotland, an outline of their chronology and character, including Bayesian modelling of dates, and a synthesis of the emerging evidence for shellfish gathering in Northwest Europe during the first millennium AD. The research represents the first investigation of large-scale early medieval middens in Britain and the first review of their international parallels and the important new information they can provide for the early medieval economy.
We are also grateful to the colleagues and students who volunteered on the Sands of Forvie excavations, and to Scottish Natural Heritage, particularly Annabel Drysdale, the manager of the Sands of Forvie National Nature Reserve, for granting permission for the project. Professor Alastair Dawson, Honorary Professor, University of Dundee, provided advice on sea levels in the Forvie area and his expertise is reflected in the paragraph of text on this topic. This work also benefited from the comments and suggestions of two anonymous reviewers.
Historic Environment Scotland funded the radiocarbon dating for the Sands of Forvie work, and their support is greatly appreciated.
- shell middens
- coastal archaeology
- early medieval
- first millenium AD
- Northwest Europe