Shells, Shell Middens, and Archaeology|
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Other Uses of Shell
First Nations of the Northwest Coast used many kinds of shells for ornaments and tools. Dentalia, a shellfish found only on the outer coast, was traded throughout the coast and was a form of currency.
(right) Fragment of 1500 year old garment from the Fraser Valley, decorated with dentalia shell beads.
Shell middens are archaeological sites that contains an abundance of shell. At a shell midden, archaeologists find the remains of settlements, campsites, and sometimes cemeteries. On the Northwest Coast, the oldest known shell midden is in Alaska; it dates to 8000 years ago. Most shell middens on the coast are younger than 5000 years old.
What Can we Learn by Studying Shells?
By identifying the species of shellfish in an archaeological site, archaeologists can reconstruct past local environments, trade networks, season of harvest, and of course, what people ate.
Like trees, shells put on seasonal ring growth. By sectioning a shell, an archaeologist can determine in what season the shellfish was harvested.