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A midden (also kitchen midden or shell heap) is an old
dump for domestic waste
dump for domestic waste
which may consist of animal
bone A bone is a rigid tissue Tissue may refer to: Biology * Tissue (biology), an ensemble of similar cells that together carry out a specific function * ''Triphosa haesitata'', a species of geometer moth found in North America * ''Triphosa dubit ...

bone
,
human excrement
human excrement
,
botanical Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science Science () is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A ...
material,
mollusc shell The mollusc (or molluskOften spelled mollusk shell in the USA; the spelling "mollusc" are preferred by ) shell is typically a calcareous exoskeleton An exoskeleton (from Greek έξω, ''éxō'' "outer" and σκελετός, ''skeletós'' "s ...

mollusc shell
s,
potsherd This page is a glossary of archaeology Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. Archaeology is often considered a branch of socio-cultural anthropology, but archaeologist ...
s,
lithics Lithic may refer to: *Relating to stone tool A stone tool is, in the most general sense, any tool made either partially or entirely out of Rock (geology), stone. Although stone tool-dependent societies and cultures still exist today, most stone ...

lithics
(especially
debitage In archaeology Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis Analysis is the process of breaking a complexity, complex topic or Substance theory, substance into smaller parts in order to ga ...
), and other
artifactArtifact, or artefact, may refer to: Science and technology *Artifact (error) In natural science Natural science is a branch of science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that ...
s and
ecofact In archaeology Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis Analysis is the process of breaking a complexity, complex topic or Substance theory, substance into smaller parts in order to ga ...
s associated with past human occupation. These
features Feature may refer to: Computing * Feature (CAD), could be a hole, pocket, or notch * Feature (computer vision), could be an edge, corner or blob * Feature (software design) is an intentional distinguishing characteristic of a software item ( ...
, therefore, provide a useful resource for
archaeologist Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. Archaeology is often considered a branch of socio-cultural anthropology, but archaeologists also draw from biological, geological, ...

archaeologist
s who wish to study the
diet Diet may refer to: Food * Diet (nutrition) In nutrition Nutrition is the biochemical Biochemistry or biological chemistry, is the study of chemical processes within and relating to living organisms. A sub-discipline of both chemistr ...
s and habits of past societies. Middens with damp,
anaerobic Anaerobic means "living, active, occurring, or existing in the absence of free oxygen", as opposed to aerobic which means "living, active, or occurring only in the presence of oxygen." Anaerobic may also refer to: *Adhesive#Anaerobic, Anaerobic ad ...
conditions can even preserve
organic Organic may refer to: * Organic, of or relating to an organism, a living entity * Organic, of or relating to an anatomical organ (anatomy), organ Chemistry * Organic matter, matter that has come from a once-living organism, is capable of decay or ...
remains in deposits as the debris of daily life are tossed on the pile. Each individual toss will contribute a different mix of materials depending upon the activity associated with that particular toss. During the course of deposition sedimentary material is deposited as well. Different mechanisms, from wind and water to animal digs, create a matrix which can also be analysed to provide seasonal and climatic information. In some middens individual dumps of material can be discerned and analysed.


Shells

A shell midden or shell mound is an
archaeological Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis Analysis is the process of breaking a complex topic or substance Substance may refer to: * Substance (Jainism), a term in Jain ontology to denote ...

archaeological
feature consisting mainly of
mollusk Mollusca is the second-largest phylum In biology, a phylum (; plural The plural (sometimes list of glossing abbreviations, abbreviated ), in many languages, is one of the values of the grammatical number, grammatical category of number ...
shells. The Danish term ''køkkenmøddinger'' (plural) was first used by
Japetus Steenstrup Johannes Japetus Smith Steenstrup Royal Society of London, FRS(For) HFRSE (8 March 1813 – 20 June 1897) was a Denmark, Danish zoologist, biologist, and professor. Life Born in Vang, Thy, Vang (Thy (district), Thy) on 8 March 1813, he held a le ...
to describe shell heaps and continues to be used by some researchers. A midden, by definition, contains the debris of human activity, and should not be confused with wind- or tide-created beach mounds. Some shell middens are processing remains: areas where aquatic resources were processed directly after harvest and prior to use or storage in a distant location. Some shell middens are directly associated with villages, as a designated village dump site. In other middens, the material is directly associated with a house in the village. Each household would dump its garbage directly outside the house. In all cases, shell middens are extremely complex and very difficult to excavate fully and exactly. The fact that they contain a detailed record of what food was eaten or processed and many fragments of
stone tools A stone tool is, in the most general sense, any tool A tool is an object that can extend an individual's ability to modify features of the surrounding environment. Although many animals use simple tools, only human beings, whose use of sto ...

stone tools
and household goods makes them invaluable objects of
archaeological Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis Analysis is the process of breaking a complex topic or substance Substance may refer to: * Substance (Jainism), a term in Jain ontology to denote ...

archaeological
study. Shells have a high
calcium carbonate Calcium carbonate is a chemical compound A chemical compound is a chemical substance composed of many identical molecules (or molecular entity, molecular entities) composed of atoms from more than one chemical element, element held togethe ...

calcium carbonate
content, which tends to make the middens
alkaline In chemistry, an alkali (; from ar, القلوي ''al-qaly'' "ashes of the saltwort") is a base (chemistry), basic, ionic compound, ionic salt (chemistry), salt of an alkali metal or an alkaline earth metal. An alkali can also be defined as ...

alkaline
. This slows the normal rate of decay caused by soil acidity, leaving a relatively high proportion of organic material (food remnants, organic tools, clothing, human remains) available for archaeologists to find.
Edward Sylvester Morse Edward Sylvester Morse (June 18, 1838 – December 20, 1925) was an American zoologist Zoology ()The pronunciation of zoology as is usually regarded as nonstandard, though it is not uncommon. is the branch of biology Biology is ...
conducted one of the first archaeological excavations of the
Omori Shell Mounds The Ōmori Shell Mounds () are the middens A midden (also kitchen midden or shell heap) is an old dump for domestic waste which may consist of animal bone A bone is a Stiffness, rigid tissue (anatomy), tissue that constitutes part of ...
in
Tokyo, Japan Tokyo (Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan , image_flag = Flag of Japan.svg , alt_flag = Centered deep red circle on a white rectangle , image_coat ...

Tokyo, Japan
in 1877, which led to the discovery of a style of pottery described as "cord-marked", translated as " Jōmon", which came to be used to refer to the early period of
Japanese history The first human inhabitants of the Japanese archipelago The Japanese archipelago (Japanese: 日本列島, ''Nihon rettō'') is a group of 6,852 islands that form the country of Japan Japan ( ja, 日本, or , and formally ) is an ...
when this style of pottery was produced. Shell middens were studied in Denmark in the latter half of the 19th century. The Danish word ''køkkenmødding'' (kitchen mound) is now used internationally. The English word "midden" (waste mound) derives from the same Old Norse word that produced the modern Danish one.


Examples

Shell middens are found in coastal or lakeshore zones all over the world. Consisting mostly of
mollusc Mollusca is the second-largest phylum In biology, a phylum (; plural The plural (sometimes list of glossing abbreviations, abbreviated ), in many languages, is one of the values of the grammatical number, grammatical category of number ...
shells, they are interpreted as being the waste products of meals eaten by nomadic groups or hunting parties. Some are small examples relating to meals had by a handful of individuals, others are many metres in length and width and represent centuries of shell deposition. In
Brazil Brazil ( pt, Brasil; ), officially the Federative Republic of Brazil (Portuguese: ), is the largest country in both South America and Latin America. At 8.5 million square kilometers (3.2 million square miles) and with over 211 mill ...

Brazil
, they are known as ''sambaquis'', having been created over a long period between the 6th millennium BCE and the beginning of European colonisation. European shell middens are primarily found along the
Atlantic seaboard The East Coast of the United States, also known as the Eastern Seaboard, the Atlantic Coast, and the Atlantic Seaboard, is the coast The coast, also known as the coastline or seashore, is defined as the area where land meets the ocean ...

Atlantic seaboard
and in
Denmark Denmark ( da, Danmark, ) is a Nordic country The Nordic countries, or the Nordics, are a geographical and cultural region In geography, regions are areas that are broadly divided by physical characteristics ( physical geography), hu ...

Denmark
and primarily date to the 5th millennium BCE ( Ertebølle and Early
Funnel Beaker
Funnel Beaker
cultures), containing the remains of the earliest Neolithisation process (pottery, cereals and domestic animals). Younger shell middens are found in
Latvia Latvia ( or ; lv, Latvija ; ltg, Latveja; liv, Leţmō), officially known as the Republic of Latvia ( lv, Latvijas Republika, links=no, ltg, Latvejas Republika, links=no, liv, Leţmō Vabāmō, links=no), is a country in the Baltic re ...

Latvia
(associated with Comb Ware ceramics),
Sweden Sweden ( sv, Sverige ), officially the Kingdom of Sweden ( sv, links=no, Konungariket Sverige ), is a Nordic country The Nordic countries, or the Nordics, are a geographical and cultural region In geography, regions are areas that ...

Sweden
(associated with Pitted Ware ceramics),
the Netherlands ) , national_anthem = ( en, "William of Nassau") , image_map = EU-Netherlands.svg , map_caption = , image_map2 = BES islands location map.svg , map_caption2 = , image_map3 ...

the Netherlands
(associated with
Corded Ware #REDIRECT Corded Ware culture#REDIRECT Corded Ware culture The Corded Ware culture comprises a broad archaeological horizon of Europe Europe is a continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identified by co ...
ceramics) and
Schleswig-Holstein Schleswig-Holstein () is the northernmost of the 16 states of Germany The Federal Republic of Germany ) , image_map = , map_caption = , map_width = 250px , capital = Berlin , coordinates = , largest_city = capital , la ...

Schleswig-Holstein
(
Late Neolithic The Pottery Neolithic (PN) or Late Neolithic (LN) began around 6,400 BCE in the Fertile Crescent, succeeding the period of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic.Bellwood (2004) By then distinctive cultures emerged, with pottery like the Halafian (Turkey, Syria, ...
and
Iron Age The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history Human history, or world history, is the narrative of Human, humanity's pa ...
). All these are examples where communities practised a mixed farming and hunting/gathering economy. On
Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of North America North America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, ...

Canada
's west coast, there are shell middens that run for more than along the coast and are several meters deep. The midden in
Namu, British Columbia thumbnail, 300px, Namu Harbour Namu is a small fishing port, former canning, cannery town and First Nations community on the coast of British Columbia, Canada. It is located about southwest of Bella Coola, British Columbia, Bella Coola or SSE of ...
is over deep and spans over 10,000 years of continuous occupation. Shell middens created in coastal regions of Australia by
Indigenous Australians Indigenous Australians are people with familial heritage to groups that lived in Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australia (continen ...
exist in
Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australia (continent), Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous List of islands of Australia, sma ...

Australia
today. Middens provide evidence of prior occupation and are generally protected from mining and other developments. One must exercise caution in deciding whether one is examining a midden or a beach mound. There are good examples on the
Freycinet Peninsula The Freycinet Peninsula is a large peninsula located on the eastern coast of Tasmania, Australia. The peninsula is located north of Schouten Island and is contained within the Freycinet National Park. The locality of Freycinet is in the local go ...
in Tasmania where wave action currently is combining charcoal from forest fire debris with a mix of shells into masses that storms deposit above high-water mark. Shell mounds near
Weipa Weipa is a coastal mining town in the local government area of Weipa Town in Queensland. It is the largest town on the Cape York Peninsula. It exists because of the enormous bauxite deposits along the coast. The ''Port of Weipa'' is mainly inv ...
in far north Queensland that are mostly less than high (although ranging up to high) and a few tens of metres long are claimed to be middens, but are in fact shell cheniers (beach ridges) re-worked by nest mound-building birds. Some shell middens are regarded as sacred sites, linked to the
Dreamtime The Dreaming, also referred to as Dreamtime, is a term devised by early anthropologists to refer to a religio-cultural worldview attributed to Australian Aboriginal mythology, Australian Aboriginal beliefs. It was originally used by Francis Ja ...
, such as those of the Anbarra group of the
Burarra people The Burarra people, also referred to as the Gidjingali, are an Aboriginal Australian people in and around Maningrida, in the heart of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. Opinions have differed as to whether the two names represent different tri ...
of
Arnhem Land Arnhem Land is a historical region of the Northern Territory The Northern Territory (NT; formally the Northern Territory of Australia) is an states and territories of Australia, Australian territory in the central and central northern region ...
. Shell mounds are also credited with the creation of
tropical hardwood hammocks Tropical hardwood hammocks are closed canopy Canopy may refer to: Plants * Canopy (biology), aboveground portion of plant community or crop (including forests) * Canopy (grape), aboveground portion of grapevine Religion and ceremonies * Bald ...
, one example being the
Otter Mound Preserve Otter Mound is located at 1831 Addison Court, Marco Island Marco may refer to: People * Marco (given name) Marco is an Italian masculine given name of Etruscan language, EtruscanPallotino, pp. 29, 30; Hendrik Wagenvoort, "The Origin of the L ...
in
Florida Florida is a U.S. state, state located in the Southeastern United States, Southeastern region of the United States. Florida is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the northwest by Alabama, to the north by Georgia (U.S. state), Geor ...

Florida
, where shell deposits from
Calusa The Calusa ( ) were a Native American Native Americans may refer to: Ethnic groups * Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the pre-Columbian peoples of North and South America and their descendants * Native Americans in the United States * Indige ...

Calusa
natives provided flood free high areas in otherwise large watered areas. There are instances in which shell middens may have doubled as areas of ceremonial construction or ritual significance. The
Woodland period In the classification of archaeological cultures of North America Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. Archaeology is often considered a branch of socio-cultural a ...
Crystal River site provides an example of this phenomenon. Some shell mounds, known as
shell ring Shell rings are archaeological sites with curved shell middens completely or partially surrounding a clear space. The rings were sited next to estuary, estuaries that supported large populations of shellfish, usually oysters. Shell rings have been ...
s, are circular or open arcs with a clear central area. Many are known from Japan and the southeastern United States, and at least one from South America.


Etymology and usage

The word is of
Scandinavia Scandinavia; Sami Places * Sápmi, a cultural region in Northern Europe * Sami, Burkina Faso, a district of the Banwa Province * Sami District, Gambia * Sami, Cephalonia, a municipality in Greece * Sami (ancient city), in Elis, Greece * Sa ...

Scandinavia
n via
Middle English Middle English (abbreviated to ME) was a form of the English language English is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family The Indo-European languages are a language family A language is a structured sys ...
derivation (from early Scandinavian; Danish: ''mødding'', Swedish regional: ''mödding'').. The word "midden" is still in everyday use in
Scotland Scotland ( sco, Scotland, gd, Alba Alba (Scottish Gaelic Scottish Gaelic ( gd, Gàidhlig or Scots Gaelic, sometimes referred to simply as Gaelic) is a Goidelic language (in the Celtic languages, Celtic branch of the Indo-European ...

Scotland
and has come by extension to refer to anything that is a mess, a muddle, or chaos. The word is used by
farmers A farmer is a person engaged in agriculture Agriculture is the science, art and practice of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary Image:Family watching television 1958.jpg, Exe ...

farmers
in Britain to describe the place where farm yard manure from cows or other animals is collected. Grants are sometimes available to protect these from rain to avoid runoff and pollution. In the animal kingdom, some species establish ground
burrow An Eastern chipmunk at the entrance of its burrow A burrow is a hole or tunnel excavated into the ground by an animal Animals (also called Metazoa) are multicellular A multicellular organism is an organism In biology, an orga ...

burrow
s, also known as middens, that are used mostly for food storage. For example, the North American red squirrel (''Tamiasciurus hudsonicus'') usually has one large active midden in each territory with perhaps an inactive or auxiliary midden. A midden may be a regularly used animal toilet area or dunghill, created by many mammals, such as the
hyrax Hyraxes (from grc, ὕραξ, translit=hýrax, "shrew Shrews (family In human society A society is a Social group, group of individuals involved in persistent Social relation, social interaction, or a large social group sharing ...

hyrax
, and also serving as a territorial marker.
Octopus An octopus (pl. octopuses/octopi, see below for variants) is a soft-bodied, eight- limbed mollusc Mollusca is the second-largest phylum of invertebrate animals after the Arthropoda. The members are known as molluscs or mollusks (). A ...

Octopus
middens are piles of debris that the octopus piles up to conceal the entrance of its den. Octopus middens are commonly made of rocks, shells, and the bones of prey, although they may contain anything the octopus finds that it can move.


See also

*
Asturian culture The Asturian culture is an Epipalaeolithic In archaeology, the Epipalaeolithic or Epipaleolithic (sometimes Epi-paleolithic etc.) is a term for a period occurring between the Upper Paleolithic The Upper Paleolithic (or Upper Palaeolithic) also ...
, characterized by shell-middens *
Crystal River Archaeological State Park Crystal River State Archaeological Site is a Florida State Park located on the Crystal River and within the Crystal River Preserve State Park Crystal River Preserve State Park is a Florida State Parks, Florida State Park, originally known as ...
*
Emeryville Shellmound The Emeryville Shellmound, in Emeryville, California, is a sacred burial site of the Ohlone people, a once-massive archaeology, archaeological shell midden deposit (dark, highly organic soil, temple and burial ground containing a high concentrat ...
* Green Mound *
Landfill A landfill site, also known as a tip, dump, rubbish dump, garbage dump, or dumping ground, is a site for the disposal of waste Waste (or wastes) are unwanted or unusable materials. Waste is any substance which is discarded after primar ...

Landfill
*
Mussel Point Mussel Point also known as Mike Taylor's Midden (MTM) is possibly the largest of 13 megamiddens found along the South Africa South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the Southern Africa, southernmost country in Afric ...
, a megamidden in the South African West Coast * Packrat midden *
Privy midden The privy midden (also midden closet) was a toilet A toilet is a piece of sanitary hardware that collects human urine and Human feces, feces, and sometimes toilet paper, usually for disposal. Flush toilets use water, while dry toilet, dry or ...
* Tell *
Tumulus A tumulus (plural tumuli) is a mound A mound is a heaped pile of earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of co ...

Tumulus
*
Urban archaeology Urban archaeology is a sub discipline of archaeology specializing in the material past of towns and cities where long-term human habitation has often left a rich record of the past. In modern times, when someone talks about living in a city, they ...
* Waste management in Australia#Pre-European settlement *
West Berkeley Shellmound
West Berkeley Shellmound
*
Whaleback Shell Midden Whaleback Shell Midden is a shell midden A midden (also kitchen midden or shell heap) is an old dump for domestic waste which may consist of animal bone A bone is a rigid tissue Tissue may refer to: Biology * Tissue (biology), an e ...
*
Yachats, Oregon Yachats ( ) is a small coastal city in Lincoln County, Oregon, United States. According to ''Oregon Geographic Names ''Oregon Geographic Names'' is a compilation of the origin and meaning of place names Toponymy, also toponymics or toponomast ...


References


External links

* {{Authority control
Shell middens A midden (also kitchen midden or shell heap) is an old landfill, dump for domestic waste which may consist of animal bone, feces, human excrement, botanical material, mollusc shells, potsherds, Lithic flake, lithics (especially debitage), and ...
Landfill Stone Age