Shell Middens

detail of a shell middenA shell midden is a deposit of marine faunal remains, predominantly edible molluscs, which was collected from the local environment by human inhabitants. Shell middens are normally found as layers or mounds of shell that have been exposed in section along the shoreline and in sand-dune areas.

They can vary greatly in size.

The word midden is used worldwide to describe any kind of feature containing waste products relating to day-to-day human life. They may be convenient, single-use pits or long-term, designated dumps.

Middens provide a useful resource for archaeologists studying the diet and activities of past societies. Using radiocarbon dating, the age of the midden can be ascertained.

There is a shell midden on Abbey Island, on the west side of Derrynane Bay.

4m long, it is composed of limpet and periwinkle shells in a band of dark brown, stony soil covered by 60cm of sand.

A sample from a shell midden on Beginish Island in Valentia Harbour has been radiocarbon dated to the Iron Age.


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