Hidden in plain sight: Spatial patterns in Late Woodland shell midden archaeological sites across Virginia’s Eastern Shore

Roark, Courtney, Harrison Undergraduate Research Award, University of Virginia
Plog, Stephen, Anthropology, University of Virginia

Shell middens are archaeological deposits that form when people eat large amounts of oysters and other shellfish. For the Native American communities that lived on the lower Delmarva Peninsula during the Late Woodland period, shell middens were often gathering places for ceremonial feasts. In a highly diverse estuarine seascape, understanding the particular environmental characteristics of midden locations can inform what these community experiences may have been like, and how these social activities may articulate with Native conceptions of landscape, space, and spirituality. Using the theoretical framework of landscape archaeology and site data maintained by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, I mapped Late Woodland shell middens and applied the exact test of goodness of fit to their distribution across categories of three variables: hydrologic soil group, land cover, and nearest water body. Results show a significant tendency toward sites with grass, scrub, shrub, marsh, and well-draining soils. Results are insignificant for midden distribution amongst water features. This suggests that the experience of open spaces with proximity to water may be more relevant to site interpretation than proximity to resource assemblages. Shell middens are unique, visible, and culturally meaningful markers on today’s landscape. Informing the public about these sites would spread awareness about the continued Native presence on the Shore, and may motivate residents to conserve undeveloped shorelines that will play a key role in buffering the coast from increasingly frequent storm events and sea level rise.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
shell, midden, archaeology, Virginia, Eastern Shore, Delmarva, coast, peninsula, Late Woodland, Native American, landscape, spatial, environment, distribution, Algonquian, Accohannock, Accomac, shellfish, undergraduate research
Sponsoring Agency:
University of Virginia
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