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Introduction: North American East Coast Shell Middens
Matthew W. Betts and M. Gabriel Hrynick

Journal of the North Atlantic, Special Volume 10 (2017): v–viii

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Journal of the North Atlantic M.W. Betts and M.G. Hrynick 2017 Special Volume X v Shell-bearing sites, also known as shell middens, have attracted some of the earliest archaeological work in Atlantic North America (Baird 1881, Matthew 1884, Randall 2014, Smith and Wintemberg 1929, Trigger 1986, Wyman 1875). This early research offered substantive contributions to regional culture histories, presaging in many instances, work of over a century later (see Hrynick and Black 2012). In fact, these researchers confronted many of the salient issues still dominating Atlantic shell-midden research in the 21st century, and which permeate the subject matter of this volume: 1. The ongoing issue of looting by local collectors, then called “ransacking” (Smith 1929:1); 2. The effects of sea-level rise (SLR), including its impacts on settlement patterns and the heritage crisis caused by the the erosion of archaeological deposits; 3. Interpreting the large quantity of faunal remains uniquely preserved in shell-bearing deposits, and especially assessing the importance of sea mammals; 4. Methods for mapping, sampling, and excavating these unique archaeological deposits; 5. The seasonality of sites, and the scheduling of settlement and resources exploitation throughout the year; and 6. The timing and impact of European contact, trading, and settlement in North America. The authors represented in the 9 papers in this volume offer their work at a critical moment. Eustatic sea-level rise compounded by local tidal regimes and increased periodicity of large storm events continues to rapidly damage coastal archaeological sites worldwide (Erlandson 2008). The impact on such processes were observed by some of the earliest archaeologists on the Atlantic seaboard, and the importance of addressing such destruction has been a consideration of shell-midden archaeology ever since. The geographic scope, intensity, and amplification of this trend is such that we often cannot say with any specificity what is being lost to coastal erosion; yet we must make research decisions rapidly. The contributors to this volume, it is clear, do not only offer tools for dealing with what we have already excavated, but also present research agendas in aid of coastal research, and which must form part of the increasingly necessary triage of salvage archaeology. Just as it was in the earliest works, economy continues to be a major subject of shell midden research on the Eastern Seaboard, reflecting the exceptional faunal preservation of shell middens, as well as their archaeologically visibility. The papers in this volume demonstrate the diversity of approaches and analyses that have recently been conducted on faunal remains, the diversity of shell-bearing deposits themselves, and the increasingly nuanced information we can draw from them. The quantity of food and the nutritional value shell fragments represent has often been downplayed, but the importance of shellfish to past diets on the Maritime Peninsula is reevaluated in Spiess’ paper. In it, he convincingly demonstrates that shellfish contributed the majority of dietary protein, and was a focal resource in Maine shell midden sites. Consistent with this revelation, the paper by Betts et al. provides the first tangible evidence for specialized, large-scale clam processing in the archaeological record on the Maritime Peninsula. Lelievre’s contribution demonstrates the close association between the rise of shell middens and climate change ca. 1500–500 years ago, while demonstrating the importance of local meso-climates and ecosystem dynamics in assessing shifts and trends. These Introduction: North American East Coast Shell Middens Matthew W. Betts1,* and M. Gabriel Hrynick2 Abstract - Archaeological shell bearing deposits, or shell middens, are ubiquitous along the Atlantic Seaboard, and have been the focus of archaeological interest for more than a century. This volume presents recent research on shell-bearing deposits from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Chesapeake Bay. The papers cover topics ranging from fundamental subsistence changes as reflected in archaeofaunas, to the role of select species in hunting practices and diets, to methodological issues of shell midden excavation and interpretation, to aspects of ideation and ontology as reflected in features and assemblages. A consistent theme among the papers is the issue of coastal erosion caused by sea-level rise and climate change. This looming crisis has made the comprehensive investigation of these deposits more important than ever before. North American East Coast Shell Midden Research Journal of the North Atlantic 1Canadian Museum of History, 100, rue Laurier Street, Gatineau, QC K1A 0M8, Canada. 2Department of Anthropology, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, 13 MacAulay Lane, Annex C, Fredericton, NB E3B 5A3, Canada. *Corresponding author - Matthew.Betts@museedelhistoire.ca. 2017 Special Volume 10:v–viii Journal of the North Atlantic M.W. Betts and M.G. Hrynick 2017 Special Volume X vi interpretations and reinterpretations are poised to contribute fundamental anthropological information regarding the organization of labor (sensu Bird and Bird 1997, 2000; Meehan 1982) and settlement questions which must increasingly recognize the central—not just supplemental or “last resort” —nutritional importance of shellfish. Continuing with scrutiny on specific resources, Black’s paper provides a study of sea-mammal exploitation strategies in Passamaquoddy Bay, highlighting an area of zooarchaeological research that has received little direct attention on much of the Atlantic seaboard. Importantly, he tracks previously underappreciated diachronic variability in exploitation of sea mammal resources, an increasingly important trend in zooarchaeological analysis of shell midden faunas (as evidenced in Betts et al., Lelievre, and Rick et al. in this volume). The issue of ritual treatment of sea mammal remains, often evoked because of their perceived scarcity in in shell midden sites and prevalence in the ethnographic literature (see Harper 1999), has been a recurring theme in economic research (e.g., Black 2017 [this volume], Ingraham et al. 2015, Sanger 2003). Robinson and Heller’s paper directly addresses this issue, and concludes that special processing and discard of sea mammal remains did occur, leaving discernable patterns in the faunal record. Conversely, Betts at al. take a more holistic approach to zooarchaeological analysis, using multiple methods and data streams, in an attempt to build culture history through faunal, settlement, and seasonality data from the last 1500 years in Port Joli Harbour. Similarly, Rick et al.’s paper attempts to construct a diachronic sequence of coastal resource exploitation in Chesapeake Bay, MD, USA. Here they document a stable and productive exploitation strategy focused on oysters and estuarine resources over 3000 years, which stands in stark contrast to Euro-American exploitation strategies in the region. Many of the papers highlight the relationships between excavation strategies and resultant analyses and interpretations, but Belcher and Sanger’s paper explicitly address this relationship. Documenting pioneering approaches to the excavation of shell middens, which included column sampling and sediment analysis, Belcher and Sanger appeal for a quantitative means to document and interpret the matrices of shell-bearing deposits. Blair et al. address a “lost” period of history in many coastal shell middens, covering the protohistoric and early historic periods. Their work shows that long-held notions of disjuncture in Indigenous subsistence and settlement caused by European contact are far more complex than previously understood. They propose that in some instances the record does not support a disjuncture at all, but rather continuity, but with very subtle shifts in settlement and seasonality—shifts that may have been missed by previous generations of archaeologists. Such research is a “call to arms” for renewed focus on understanding the cultural changes that occur during the elusive protohistoric period. The volume presents 2 papers dedicated to a nascent trend in shell midden work on the Atlantic seaboard. These papers rally the detailed economic, architectural, and artifactual data from these meticulously excavated deposits to explore the relational connections between people, animals, their environment, and archaeological residues. Both are optimistic in extracting evidence for ritual actions from shell-bearing sites, and account for both daily routinized and seemingly mundane cosmological activities and directed ritual actions. Crucially, neither of these papers sets ritual entirely independently from economic or domestic action. The first, by Robinson and Heller, already introduced above, exposes the archaeological correlates, and thus time depth, of Wabanaki relationships with sea mammals. This study documents the actions used to maintain proper relationships with these animals, and one can logically assume that similar actions were pervasive in nearly all human-animal relationships among hunter-gatherers on the Atlantic Seaboard. The second paper, by Hrynick and Betts, uses carefully excavated architectural features from Port Joli to explore how such a relational ontology mediated the everyday domestic actions of Wabanaki people, and how that ontology became part of the history of space-use and architectural expression in the harbor. Significantly, Robinson and Heller’s study highlights the importance of revisiting highly visible places such as sites surrounding the Machias Bay, Maine petroglyphs, while Hrynick and Betts highlight the importance of considering house floors as more than just the residues of domestic activity. Collaborations with Indigenous peoples manifest in various ways in many of these papers, with numerous authors reporting on projects that are the result of long-term partnerships and communitybased projects. Such collaboration will become even more critical in coming decades as archaeologists on the East Coast shift towards the triage and salvage of coastal deposits impacted by sea-level rise and erosion. Recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions (Regina v. Bernard 2005; Tsilhqot'in First Nation v. British Columbia 2014) and court cases in Maine, Journal of the North Atlantic M.W. Betts and M.G. Hrynick 2017 Special Volume X vii USA (Penobscot Nation v. Mills 2015) have outlined the obligation for Aboriginal peoples to demonstrate routine historical use of land and resources in rightsbased treaty implementations as well as land and resource negotiations (e.g., Lewis 2010:180). Thus, coastal erosion is more than just a heritage issue, because sea-level rise is also literally washing away Wabanaki history, and with it, their rights. Three topical absences from this volume deserve special comment. Geophysical methods are increasingly applied to coastal archaeological sites, and these methods, especially the application of groundpenetrating radar (e.g., Chadwick et al. 2000, Thompson et al. 2004) may serve to rapidly assess the structure of shell-bearing deposits to facilitate targeted excavation or preservation. Other geophysical techniques may be coupled with coring to gain snapshots of submerged and deeply buried coastal archaeological deposits (e.g., Leach 2007). The second related absence in this volume is of more conventional underwater archaeology, ranging from the identification of artifacts as by-catch in fishing operations (e.g., Crock et al. 1993) to targeted dives. For the Eastern Seaboard, approaches such as these will be the only ways to approach the bulk of the Archaic and the entirety of the Paleoindian occupations that might exist along the coast. Finally, recent years have seen improved methods for attaining absolute dates on coastal archaeological sites. Advances in radiocarbon dating are always in the background of these articles, but not the direct focus. Radiocarbon dates have become more cost effective, sample efficient, and accurate such that numerous dates are the norm from even modest projects, and these dates have dramatically nuanced our chronologies. Papers within this volume by Betts et al. and by Rick et al., for instance, show the importance of refined radiocarbon frameworks for economic analyses. The former of these is built largely upon the dating of terrestrial mammal bones while the latter employs shell dates and localized marine reservoir corrections. Turning away from charcoal dates signals a more pragmatic and problem-oriented approach to dating and we may suspect that dating programs that attempt to directly address the issues of “old” wood charcoal, contamination, and marine reservoirs will continue to be implemented along the East Coast and elsewhere. While the fundamental questions that intrigued the earliest scholars to excavate coastal sites on the Atlantic seaboard are still salient today, we believe that these scholars would be astounded at the new techniques, methods, and theories which have led to critical insights into the history of coastal Indigenous peoples. While the pace of coastal erosion increases, so does the pace of archaeological inquiry in the region. The papers in this volume show us that innovation—as well as reconsideration of past approaches, data, and interpretation—are expanding the kinds of questions we may reasonably seek to address from coastal sites. Literature Cited Baird, S.F. 1881. Notes on certain Aboriginal shell mounds on the Coasts of New Brunswick and New England. Proceedings of the United States National Museum 4:292–297. Belcher, W.R., and D. Sanger. 2017. The Roque Island Archaeological Project, Maine: Methodologies and results. Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume X:XX–XX. Betts, M.W. M. Burchell and B.R. Schöne. 2017. An economic history of the Maritime Woodland period in Port Joli Harbour, Nova Scotia. Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 10:18–41. Bird, D.W., and R.B. Bird. 1997. Contemporary shellfish gathering strategies among the Meriam of the Torres Strait Islands, Australia: Testing predictions of a central place foraging model. Journal of Archaeological Science 24:39–63. Bird, D.W., and R.B. Bird. 2000. The ethnoarchaeology of juvenile foragers: Shellfishing strategies among Meriam children. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology19: 461–476. Black, D.W. 2017. Archaeological sea mammal remains from the Maritime Provinces. Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 10:70–89. Blair, S., M. Horne, A.K. Patton, and W.J Webb. 2017. Birch cove and the Protohistoric period of the northern Quoddy Region, New Brunswick, Canada. Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 10:59–69. Chadwick, W.J., and J.A. Madsen. 2000. The application of ground-penetrating radar to a coastal prehistoric archaeological site, Cape Henlopen, Delaware, USA. Geoarchaeology 15:65–781. Crock, J.G, J.B. Petersen, and R.M. Anderson. 1993. Scalloping for artifacts: A biface and plummet from Eastern Blue Hill Bay, Maine. Archaeology of Eastern North America 21:179–192. Erlandson, J.M., 2008. Racing a rising tide: Global warming, rising seas, and the erosion of human history. The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 3(2):167–169. Harper, R.K. 1999. To render the God of the water propitious: Hunting and human–animal relations in the Northeast Woodlands. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA. 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