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  • Shell Middens

    While a common and mostly ignored N/A feature along the Atlantic coast, they are very special and interesting in their own way. I'm posting these pics because I think our inland members might find this interesting. At some spots along the open ocean, but are mostly found in salt pond and estuary situations. The native Americans camped right along the water and utiliized many diffferent marine resources. They harvested an incredible amount of shellfish. On one island off of Cape Cod, shell middens are found about 6" under the current soil surface. The are easy to spot where the shells erode out of the dunes. The first pic is of a midden eroding down a dune face. Second pic is of the actual layer of the midden, just below the soil surface. Third pic is of a midden which slid down the dune due to a tree eroding and falling frtom the surface. Fourth pic is of a small midden in a layer of peat.

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  • #2
    Oddly enough, not too many N/A artifacts are found in these midddens, only a handfull of points or tools have been found by the coastal collectors that I know. But, in the general area near these middens artifacts can be sometimes found. Sometimes the campsite was right by the midden, sometimes it was further away.

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    • #3
      It might be different in other areas but in FL we were told for many years by collectors that the shell middens were useless to hunt for artifacts, there was nothing but shell in the heaps.....
      That is a complete falsehood. At least in FL. They are LOADED with broken and whole tools, points, pottery, you name it they lost in in/on the heaps. But they lived upon the shell heaps here because they were elevated, Florida and the beaches being so flat. I would go nuts wanting to scratch that midden wall with the black@@@!!! Great pics, man.
      Professor Shellman

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      • #4
        Thanks that is something I haven't come across here locally. Definitely lets you know you are on a site.
        Last edited by gregszybala; 12-02-2018, 11:59 AM.
        Searching the fields of Northwest Indiana and Southwestern Michigan

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        • #5
          I can agree with what Greg said. Being from the Midwest I find those type of things very interesting...good pics and explanation also.
          The chase is better than the catch...
          From the flatlands of N'Eastern Illinois...

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          • #6
            We’ve got a bunch of them here in R.I. too. I don’t dig into them but I scan around what’s eroded out, I’ve only found a hammerstone that way. Imagine how many seasons it takes to mound up a pile of shells even the size of an average midden
            call me Jay, i live in R.I.

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            • #7
              I know a huge midden nearby that is so big trees are now growing out of it and it has become part of the hillside...people have been tunneling into it with shovlels it looks like..the shells are so dense and packed its almost impossible to find anything...when I see midden eroding out I always check the area below for stuff...imagine all the midden that are grown over and cant see anymore...i did find a blade that eroded out of a midden...it was perfectly preserved like it was made yesterday..

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              • #8
                SHELL MOUNDS IN THE SOUTHEAST: MIDDENS, MONUMENTS, TEMPLE MOUNDS, RINGS, OR WORKS?

                https://www.jstor.org/stable/2576621...n_tab_contents

                Professor Shellman

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                • Tam
                  Tam commented
                  Editing a comment
                  That’s an arch marvel !

                • clambellies
                  clambellies commented
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                  Great pics, thanks.

              • #9
                There are some plants that pretty much only grow on shell mounds and earthen mounds in coastal areas. Down here the aromatic red cedar and gumbo limbo trees only grow on shell mounds and one can look on Google Earth and in person where sites are because of the plants. Spanish Bayonet plants also grow on mounds. Any Oaks or Palms out in the estuaries is likely a site
                Last edited by tomclark; 12-02-2018, 10:48 AM.
                Professor Shellman

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                • clambellies
                  clambellies commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Very interesting.

              • #10
                Great thread here and I wonder if anyone has read the same things I have such as:

                Shells are rarely found whole, usually bashed to approx 1 inch pieced
                Sometimes colonial people also had shell heaps which are occasionally confused with NA peoples'
                Quantities of shellfish meat were dried and carried far inland
                Not an early Archaic feature and rarely middle Archaic feature
                The Connecticut river was not passable by ships at one time due to shell heaps
                Human remains have been found in them in NJ
                Oyster shell sizes were very large compared to what we could order at a restaurant.

                Again, I remember reading these things but I don't know how true each statement is so I post here for feedback on those.

                There is a shell heap near me off in the marsh I've driven past that is well known and supposedly over 13 feet deep which has been professionally excavated though not recently. I haven't visited it yet but I've found a few heaps with no artifacts visible. They were anywhere from 1000 feet to 10 miles from the ocean or bay.

                Any feed back on those point would be great.



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                • #11
                  Love this , look up the guy who has walk alongside in Big Sur Cal .

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                  • #12
                    Originally posted by kayakaddict View Post
                    Great thread here and I wonder if anyone has read the same things I have such as:

                    Shells are rarely found whole, usually bashed to approx 1 inch pieced
                    Sometimes colonial people also had shell heaps which are occasionally confused with NA peoples'
                    Quantities of shellfish meat were dried and carried far inland
                    Not an early Archaic feature and rarely middle Archaic feature
                    The Connecticut river was not passable by ships at one time due to shell heaps
                    Human remains have been found in them in NJ
                    Oyster shell sizes were very large compared to what we could order at a restaurant.

                    Again, I remember reading these things but I don't know how true each statement is so I post here for feedback on those.

                    There is a shell heap near me off in the marsh I've driven past that is well known and supposedly over 13 feet deep which has been professionally excavated though not recently. I haven't visited it yet but I've found a few heaps with no artifacts visible. They were anywhere from 1000 feet to 10 miles from the ocean or bay.

                    Any feed back on those point would be great.


                    Not in middens, but in plowed up refuse pits, which mostly contain shell, I have seen oysters larger then anything I can expect to find on our shores today. I do find intact shells of various shellfish that originated in refuse pits.

                    i usually collect a few examples of complete shells that I find in fields I walk. I just like the idea that they were someone's food long ago, and I throw them in my frames of broken points and stuff from the site in question. Usually oysters.

                    I am aware of one human burial found in a refuse pit, and excavated many decades ago. Interestingly enough, I found portions of a human skull cap plowed up from a shell refuse pit. My wife and I buried it in woods alongside the field. We placed the bone between two huge oyster shells from the refuse pit, so the lime would help preserve the bone, then laid it in the hole, and put some flakes and tobacco in with the remains, filled the shallow hole in, and said a prayer. I had no idea of the sex, but I called "him" Harry, and I took to asking Harry for luck on my hunts from that point on.

                    Although I don't dig middens at all, like Jay, I am aware of the location of some on our bays.

                    Here are a couple of late 19th century photos of a large midden in Maine...

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                    • clambellies
                      clambellies commented
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                      That's one heck of a clam bake Charlie!

                  • #13
                    The photos at this link give a better idea of the scale of Whaleback Midden, Maine. A state park, now. Also gives lots of info on middens in general...

                    https://www.maine.gov/dacf/parks/dis...ck/index.shtml

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                    • #14
                      Shell middens are common along much of the Tennessee River in Alabama and are often visible in areas that are not permanently flooded by the reservoirs in the TVA system.

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