A drowned Mesolithic shell midden complex at Hjarnø Vesterhoved, Denmark and its wider significance

Astrup, Peter Moe, Benjamin, Jonathan, Stankiewicz, Francis, Woo, Katherine, McCarthy, John, Wiseman, Chelsea, Baggaley, Paul, Jerbic, Katarina, Fowler, Madeline, Skriver, Claus, and Bailey, Geoff (2021) A drowned Mesolithic shell midden complex at Hjarnø Vesterhoved, Denmark and its wider significance. Quaternary Science Reviews, 258. 106854.

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Anthropogenic shell accumulations (shell middens), often of great size, occur in their tens of thousands around the world’s coastlines. They mostly date from the Mid-Holocene onwards and are frequently taken as symptomatic of a Postglacial ‘revolution’ involving world-wide population growth and intensification in exploitation of marine resources. However, the comparative rarity of earlier deposits may have as much to do with Postglacial sea-level rise and the loss of evidence from earlier palaeoshorelines as with genuine socio-economic trends. Here we investigate the underwater Mesolithic (Ertebølle) shell midden of Hjarnø Vesterhoved in Denmark, one of the first underwater shell middens to be systematically verified as an anthropogenic shell deposit in a region world-famous for its many hundreds of Ertebølle shell mounds on the present shoreline. We show how a combination of geophysical survey, coring, excavation, stratigraphic interpretation and macroscopic analysis of midden contents can be used to identify underwater deposits, to unravel their taphonomic and post-depositional history in relation to surrounding sediments, and to distinguish between cultural and natural agencies of shell accumulation and deformation. We demonstrate the presence of an intact underwater shell-midden deposit dated at 5400e5100 cal BC, one of the earliest in Denmark. We demonstrate the usefulness of such material in giving new information about early coastal subsistence economies and greater precision to the measurement of palaeo-sea levels. We discuss the implications of our results for an improved understanding of the Mesolithic record in Denmark and of biases in the archaeological record of Late Pleistocene and Early-to-Mid Holocene coastal contexts. We emphasise the importance of researching more fully the geomorphological and taphonomic processes that affect the accumulation, destruction, burial, preservation and visibility of underwater archaeological deposits, the need to extend underwater investigations more widely and to more deeply submerged palaeoshorelines, and the combination of methods required to advance such investigations.

Item ID: 67464
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1873-457X
Keywords: submerged palaeolandscapes, coastal archaeology, middens
Copyright Information: ©2021 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC DP 170100812
Date Deposited: 29 Mar 2021 23:14
FoR Codes: 43 HISTORY, HERITAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 4301 Archaeology > 430101 Archaeological science @ 60%
43 HISTORY, HERITAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 4301 Archaeology > 430104 Archaeology of Europe, the Mediterranean and the Levant @ 40%
SEO Codes: 13 CULTURE AND SOCIETY > 1307 Understanding past societies > 130704 Understanding Europe’s past @ 60%
13 CULTURE AND SOCIETY > 1307 Understanding past societies > 130799 Understanding past societies not elsewhere classified @ 40%
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