The diverse implications of examining malacological assemblages in archaeological contexts are widely recognized. From understanding past environments and reconstructing palaeolandscapes to exploring past subsistence strategies; and from elucidating sociocultural dynamics of maritime interactions to the use of shell as raw materials in both technological and cultural spheres, shellfish play an important part in archaeological narratives. This workshop plays two roles: first to present current archaeomalacological research from around the world – demonstrating the above. The second part aims to discuss and develop more standardized approaches to taxonomic classification, collection, quantification and analysis of shell assemblages and reporting techniques. While there is a vast array of archaeological examination of shell remains, current outputs lack appropriate standardization, making cross-cultural or inter-site analysis difficult – something that will become increasingly detrimental to the discipline. The AMWG has reached a critical mass whereby such standardization should become practical and possible.
The Abstract Booklet for the meeting can be downloaded here (in pdf format)
The Conference Programme for the meeting can be downloaded here (in pdf format)
Title: Methods in our Madness: Approaches in Archaeomalacology.
Venue: University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Kirkwall, Orkney.
Date: 5th – 8th April 2016
Papers and Posters
Attended by over 20 delegates from around the world, the conference aimed to showcase the diverse range of ongoing archaeomalacological research worldwide, providing ample opportunity to discuss options for increasing the standardisation of approaches to taxonomic classification, collection, quantification and analysis of shell assemblages and reporting.
Eighteen papers, two roundtable discussions and one poster were presented over two and a half days. The presentations covered a range of thematic issues – including the socio-cultural uses of shell as raw materials and as having intrinsic social value (Bar Yosef, Christie, Deshpande-Mukherjee, Dilaria, Koren, Ktalav, and Wilkens); the use of shell as part of a subsistence economy (Law, McTavish, Moore) or as paleao-environmental indicators (Fradkin, Milano, and O’Connor), quantitative analysis and scientific approaches (Bosch, Escarzaga, LeGeoff, Nelson-Viljoen); the challenges of accurate taxonomy (Moore) and the importance of standardised sampling strategies for curation (Campbell).
The papers demonstrated the global reach of the group documenting ongoing research in the USA, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and around the Indian Ocean.
Two fieldtrips were arranged as part of the conference. On the Tuesday (6th April), delegates visited the site of an eroding shell midden providing a focal point for discussion of sampling strategies and cost effective ways in which the midden (and other similar sites) could be examined ahead of its impending destruction from the sea. During this trip delegates also visited Deerness and the wartime heritage at the Churchill Barriers.
The second fieldtrip showcased the wealth of cultural heritage in Orkney. Delegates visited the Skara Brae, the Stones of Steness, the Ring of Brodgar, Barnhouse, Maeshowe, the Broch of Birsay and the Broch of Gurness. As part of this, there was ample opportunity to look for the elusive Groatie Buckie at Birsay.
Points of Interest
The conference allowed plenty of time for discussion with two, ninety minute roundtable discussions. The first session focussed on taxonomy, taphonomy and methodological approaches to understanding the socio-cultural uses of shell. The second roundtable explored quantitative analyses in more detail, as well as providing opportunities to discuss issues raised by Campbell’s paper ‘Someone Had To Be First’ – an attempt at standardising shell assemblage sampling, classification and archiving. One theme common to both sessions centred on which were the best sources for shell classification. The group would like to create an annotated bibliography of sources for identification, as well as an accessible database of sources related to relevant archaeomalacological themes.
During the Working Group meeting Dr Christie stood down as co-ordinator of the group after four years, this will be taken over by Dr Daniella Bar Yosef in the interim. Dr Christie also stepped down as editor of the Archaeo + Malacology newsletter handing it over to Cindy Nelson-Viljoen.
The next meeting of the AMWG will be at the next ICAZ meeting in Ankara in 2018.