Late Saxon & Conquest-Period Oyster Middens

Please click on the link below to download a PDF file of the publication in which the late Ian Horsey and I investigated the date and nature of oyster shell midden deposits excavated from beneath the waterfront of Poole in Dorset, England, utilising radio-carbon dating techniques.

Horsey, I. P. and Winder, J. M. (1992) The Late Saxon and Conquest-Period Oyster Middens, in Excavations at Poole 1973-1983 by Ian P. Horsey, Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Monograph Series Number 10, Series Editor Jo Draper, pp 60-61.

Permission to use this published report has kindly been granted by Dorset County Museum where it is possible to purchase copies of the full publication.

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About winderjssc

Jessica Winder has a background in ecological studies in both the museum and the research laboratory. She is passionate about the natural world right on our doorsteps. She is enthusiastic about capturing what she sees through photography and wants to open the eyes of everyone to the beauty and fascination of nature. She is author of 'Jessica's Nature Blog' at http://natureinfocus.wordpress.com. Jessica has also extensively researched macroscopic variations in oyster and other edible marine mollusc shells from archaeological excavations as a means of understanding past exploitation of marine shellfish resources. She is an archaeo-malacological consultant through Oysters etc. and is publishing summaries of her shell research work on the WordPress Blog called 'Oysters etc.' at https://oystersetcetera.wordpress.com 'Photographic Salmagundi' at http://photosalmagundi.wordpress.com is a showcase of photographs and digital art on all sorts of subjects - not just natural history.
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3 Responses to Late Saxon & Conquest-Period Oyster Middens

  1. nannus says:

    Quite interesting. I am not sure about the health effects of eating 532 oysters a day 😉 but they must have been an important addition to the diet of the people in that area. Is anything known about those people? It might be possible nowadays to find out how much seafoods contributed to their diet by analyzing isotope ratios in their bones.

    • winderjssc says:

      I believe that people commonly ate around a hundred oysters at a sitting but I think that would have quite an effect on the bowels. For most of history oysters would have been an important part of the diet especially for communities living near to the sea – transport could be problem (difficult and expensive) for people living further inland. Seafood of all kinds was important to the locals of the general area but also other kinds of meat. The fascinating thing about the oysters from these particular excavations in Poole is that the deposits were made at a time when there is no evidence whatsoever of habitation on the site. The oldest buildings still in existence in Poole had their foundations dug into the oyster shell midden which therefore pre-dated settlement of the site. It is thought that fishermen taking oysters from Poole Bay via the harbour and up-river to the town of Wareham, anchored half-way at the future site of Poole because of ebbing tides and shallowing water. It is believed that they shucked the oysters to remove the meat and then cast the empty shells overboard onto the mud banks. The oysters were presumably preserved in barrels of brine for onwards transport. There are documentary records of oyster meats exported from Poole in barrels later on in the 17/18th century.

      • nannus says:

        Maybe this was necessary to reduce the wheight of the ship. Maybe the riverbed was too shallow to take all that extra wheight along (just an idea).

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