Posts Tagged ‘clams’


Scientists have reconstructed the cooking techniques of the early inhabitants of Puerto Rico by analysing the remains of clams.


Led by Philip Staudigel, who conducted the analysis as a graduate student at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Cardiff University, the team has used new chemical analysis techniques to identify the exact cooking temperatures at which clams were cooked over 2500 years ago.

With cooking temperatures getting up to around 200oC according to the new analysis, the team believe the early Puerto Ricans were partial to a barbeque rather than boiling their food as a soup.

The study, which also involved academics from the University of Miami and Valencia College, has been published today in the journal Science Advances.

Whilst the results throw new light on the cultural practices of the first communities to arrive on the island of Puerto Rico, they also provide at least circumstantial evidence that ceramic pottery technology was not widespread during this period of history – it’s likely that this would be the only way in which the clams could have been boiled.

Lead author of the study Dr Philip Staudigel, currently at Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, said: “Much of peoples’ identity draws upon on where they came from, one of the most profound expressions of this is in cooking. We learn to cook from our parents, who learned from their parents.

“In many parts of the world, written records extend back thousands of years, which often includes recipes. This is not the case in the Caribbean, as there were no written texts, except for petroglyphs. By learning more about how ancient Puerto Rican natives cooked their meals, we can relate to these long-gone peoples through their food.”

In their study, the team analysed over 20kg of fossilised clam shells at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Stable Isotope Lab, which were collected from an archaeological site in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico.

The pre-Arawak population of Puerto Rico were the first inhabitants of the island, arriving sometime before 3000 BC, and came from Central and/or South America. They existed primarily from fishing, hunting, and gathering near the mangrove swamps and coastal areas where they had settled.

The fossilised shells, dating back to around 700 BC, were cleaned and turned into a powder, which was then analysed to determine its mineralogy, as well as the abundance of specific chemical bonds in the sample.

When certain minerals are heated, the bonds between atoms in the mineral can rearrange themselves, which can then be measured in the lab. The amount of rearrangement is proportional to the temperature the mineral is heated.

This technique, known as clumped isotope geochemistry, is often used to determine the temperature an organism formed at but in this instance was used to reconstruct the temperature at which the clams were cooked.

The abundance of bonds in the powdered fossils was then compared to clams which were cooked at known temperatures, as well as uncooked modern clams collected from a nearby beach.

Results showed that that the majority of clams were heated to temperatures greater than 100°C – the boiling point of water – but no greater than 200°C. The results also revealed a disparity between the cooking temperature of different clams, which the researchers believe could be associated with a grilling technique in which the clams are heated from below, meaning the ones at the bottom were heated more than the ones at the top.

“The clams from the archaeological site appeared to be most similar to clams which had been barbequed,” continued Dr Staudigel.

“Ancient Puerto Ricans didn’t use cookbooks, at least none that lasted to the present day. The only way we have of knowing how our ancestors cooked is to study what they left behind. Here, we demonstrated that a relatively new technique can be used to learn what temperature they cooked at, which is one important detail of the cooking process.”


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University of Victoria students Walker Tottman and Aren Rosholt helped excavate long-ago feast with legal implications today. Arrow points to the discovered geoduck clam shell, at least 500 years old. Photo: Iain McKechnie.

By Denise Titian



Archeologists just proved the Nuu-chah-nulth ate geoducks 500 years ago. That’s big.

One day between five and ten centuries ago, people living on what is now known as Keith Island finished eating a geoduck clam and placed its shell neatly alongside others.

The implications of that moment — brought to light this month by archeologists — loom large for Indigenous nations pursuing the right to harvest and sell geoduck clams on their territories in British Columbia.

Keith Island, part of the Broken Group Islands off the west coast of Vancouver Island, is the territory of the Tseshaht First Nation, one of 14 nations that make up the Nuu-chah-nulth people of western Vancouver Island.

University of Victoria archaeologist and assistant professor Iain McKechnie said several shell fragments and a large, intact geoduck clam shell was found more than a metre deep in a pit on Keith Island on July 13.

The find proves that Tseshaht, before the arrival of Europeans, had access to and consumed geoduck clams, among other species. This discovery could support other coastal First Nations’ fisheries rights claims when it comes to shellfish.

Geoduck is a species of gigantic saltwater clams with a retail price of up to $30 a pound on the Asian market, where they’re highly sought-after due to their supposed aphrodisiacal attributes. The Chinese market for geoducks from Canada got a boost when China placed a tariff on U.S. producers in retaliation for tariffs imposed on Chinese goods by the Trump administration.

In 2009 the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that Nuu-chah-nulth-aht have a constitutional right to fish and sell fish from their territory, but geoducks were excluded from the ruling. The court argued that the species have only been harvested since the invention of modern equipment and there was no evidence that First Nations collected them.

The Keith Island find says otherwise.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time I’ve seen geoduck archaeological remains — we are confident that this is not a horse clam,” stated McKechnie.

McKechnie went on to say that this is the first find of this type in Nuu-chah-nulth territory and even on the coast of British Columbia.

“I am not aware of others,” he said.

Tseshaht Councillor Luke George said that members of his nation heard the news about the geoduck find and were pleased.

“It is exciting to have proof that helps our case when it comes to our rights to harvest shellfish; this solidifies something for Tseshaht, and for that, we are grateful,” he said.

The geoduck shells and other materials unearthed at Keith Island this summer will be sent to the University of Victoria for analysis.

Over the past three summers, archaeology students unearthed thousands of artifacts on Keith Island, including a full set of bones from a woolly dog that is now extinct. The geoduck shells were found nearby, in a place that had been used continuously by Tseshaht for hundreds of years.

Archaeologist teams work at the site for two weeks each summer. This year is the third at Keith Island. The work is made possible through a partnership among the UVic Archaeology Field School, Parks Canada and Tseshaht First Nation .

McKechnie said the shells were located in a deposit that is at least 500 years old but could date back as much as 1,000 years.

It was in a feature with other clams,” he said, adding that it appeared that the collection of shells may have been part of an ancient clam bake.

The shells appeared to be arranged purposefully and many intact shells were found with both sides of the shell aligned.

In addition, the shells in that layer of earth had evidence of oily residue inside the shells along with charred organic materials, like vegetation.

What this shows is that past generations of Tseshaht harvested these and more than 40 other species of shellfish, and brought them home for processing at this site, said McKechnie, whose work is part of the Hakai Institute’s marine science programs funded by the Tula Foundation.

“This (dig site) contains a record of the people living here; it gives us information about the people living here, where they were going for food, what they are eating and how they harvested their food,” he said.

Denis St. Claire, an archaeologist since 1970, is the Tseshaht representative on the project and its co-director. He pointed to a long ridge that runs parallel to the beach, saying that it was a mulch pile made up of bones and shells that would have been outside the longhouses that were once there.

A few feet away lies a toppled tree, its roots studded with seashells hundreds of years old — shells that nurtured the tree until it fell.

There were pits on each side of the ridge, each about two metres square and just under two metres deep. The UVic archaeologists uncovered several generations of cooking hearths in one pit and even a shadowy impression left from a wooden house post.

The island was inhabited up until the 1950s so the top layers of soil contain items that came after contact, like metal nails and wood stove parts.

“This island contains both a past and current history,” said St. Claire.

With files from The Tyee.

A version of this story first appeared in the Ha-Shilth-Sa, Canada’s oldest First Nations newspaper, published by the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council.  [Tyee]

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A study led by SFU archaeology professor Dana Lepofsky and Hakai Institute researcher Nicole Smith reveals that clam gardens, ancient Indigenous food security systems located along B.C.’s coast, date back at least 3,500 years — almost 2,000 years older than previously thought. These human-built beach terraces continue to create habitat for clams and other sea creatures to flourish in the area.

Source: Northwest Coast clam gardens nearly 2,000 years older than previously thought — study

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Piles of clamshells with a stone structure above them are seen at an excavation site at the Sakatsuji Shell Midden in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN

Original Article:

Jan 22, 2018
An ancient heap of shells at Sakatsuji Shell Midden in the city of Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, most likely served as a clam processing site in the latter half of the mid-Jomon Period, approximately 4,500 years ago, an investigation conducted by the city’s board of education has revealed.
While there are ruins in eastern Japan that indicate organized production during the mid-Jomon Period — including the Nakazato shell midden, or mound, which is a national historic site in Tokyo’s Kita Ward — it is extremely rare to find one in the Chubu region or further west. This latest discovery will provide important clues about the culinary lifestyle and economic activities conducted in the Jomon Period.
The Sakatsuji shell mound is one of the Muro cluster of seven shell middens in Aichi Prefecture.
An excavation conducted in the 1970s showed a rough scale of activities there, but details had remained unknown.
The mound is located approximately 3.5 km inland of what is now Mikawa Bay. But prior to the bay being filled in to create rice fields in the Edo Period the shell mound had faced the sea, along a stretch of coastland where the shores are shallow.
As a land consolidation project is scheduled to start in the area that includes the mound, the board of education had been excavating approximately 1,000 square meters of land since May.
The mound, made almost entirely of clamshells, measures roughly 1.6 meters high, about 6 meters wide and more than 24 meters long.
At least four layers have been identified, sandwiched between soil streaked with charcoal.
The team also discovered around 55 objects that looked like furnaces assembled from stones, and the members expect to find more as they continue excavating.
“We believe that the clams were boiled in the furnaces, and their meat stripped from the shells. Afterward the shells were piled up, then the ground was leveled and made into a processing site again,” said a member of the excavation team. “That kind of process must have been repeated again and again.”
The excavation team was not able to find any evidence of residences nearby, so it was likely the workers who dug and processed the clams lived in another area.
The volume of shells discovered was so huge it is hard to believe that they were consumed within the region, and the excavation team has said there is a possibility people dried the clams after they were boiled so that they would last longer and could be used for trading.
The shells are of various sizes. “We found many large shells similar to those seen in high-class Japanese restaurants. The clams must have become quite salty when boiled in sea water, so maybe they were used to make soup stock,” a member of the excavation team said. Several hundred furnaces have been found in the other six shell mounds in Muro. They share the same features as the Sakatsuji midden, which indicates the whole area was bustling with clam processing at the time.
However, the other six shell middens were from the late Jomon Period — approximately 2,300 to 3,800 years ago — which means the clam processing site of Sakatsuji was much older.
Most of the furnaces found in the other shell middens were also without stone structures, and were constructed in such a way that earthenware was placed directly on the floor.
“Perhaps they changed to a simpler furnace in order to meet the growing demand for clams,” said one of the team members.
The excavation will continue until the end of March and an on-site briefing is expected to be held in mid-February.
According to Tomonari Osada, a part-time lecturer specializing in archaeology at Chubu University, the Tokai region during the mid-Jomon Period is believed to have been less socially developed compared to the period immediately before the beginning of the Yayoi Period.
“I would be surprised if the production conducted at the Sakatsuji shell midden was for the sake of trading and distribution to other regions. We need to focus on this site and conduct further analysis to determine whether the objects made of stones were indeed furnaces for boiling (clams).”

Piles of clamshells with a stone structure above them are seen at an excavation site at the Sakatsuji Shell Midden in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN


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Clam garden in the Broughton Archipelago. Image: Simon Fraser University

Casting a large interdisciplinary research net has helped Simon Fraser University archaeologist Dana Lepofsky and 10 collaborators dig deeper into their findings about ancient clam gardens in the Pacific Northwest to formulate new perspectives.

Lepofsky’s research team has discovered that Northwest Coast Indigenous people didn’t make their living just by gathering the natural ocean’s bounty. Rather, from Alaska to Washington, they were farmers who cultivated productive clam gardens to ensure abundant and sustainable clam harvests.

Dating the stone terraces

SFU archaeologist Dana Lepofsky participates in the ecological survey of clams in clam garden. Image: Simon Fraser University

SFU archaeologist Dana Lepofsky participates in the ecological survey of clams in clam garden. Image: Simon Fraser University

In its new paper published by American Antiquity, Lepofsky’s team describes how it isolated novel ways to date the stone terraces that created clam beaches. These beaches are certainly more than 1,000 years old and likely many thousands of years older. The researchers identified many places where people built gardens on bedrock — creating ideal clam habitats where there were none before. This, the researchers concluded, clearly challenges the notion that First Nations were living in wild, untended environments.

We think that many Indigenous peoples worldwide had some kind of sophisticated marine management, but the Pacific Northwest is likely one of the few places in the world where this can be documented,” says Lepofsky. “This is because our foreshores are more intact than elsewhere and we can work closely with Indigenous knowledge holders.”

Clam Garden Network

The researchers, who worked with First Nations linguistic data, oral traditions and memories, geomorphological surveys, archaeological techniques and ecological experiments, belong to the Clam Garden Network. It’s a coastal group interested in ancient clam management.

Understanding ancient marine management is relevant to many current issues,” says Lepofsky.

Her team is comparing clam garden productivity to that of modern aquaculture and assessing whether the shell-rich beaches of clam gardens help buffer against increasing ocean acidification. The team will also build experimental clam gardens, applying many of the traditional cultivation techniques learned from First Nations collaborators as a means of increasing food production and food security today.

Three year study

This latest study is on the heels of one done a year ago by Lepofsky and her collaborators. The original three-year study published in PLOS ONE (Open Access) found that these ancient gardens produced quadruple the number of butter clams and twice the number of littleneck clams as unmodified clam beaches. It was the first study to provide empirical evidence of the productivity of ancient Pacific Northwest clam gardens and their capacity to increase food production.

Original article:

Past horizons

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Topic: Ancient clam sites
A three-year study of ancient clam gardens in the Pacific Northwest reveals that coastal First Nations people used to reap superior harvests using rock-walled beach terraces.

The study’s lead author, Amy Groesbeck, was a student in SFU’s School of Resource and Environmental Management when she initiated the research for her master’s thesis. Her supervisors, who all helped with research and authoring the study, included SFU professors Anne Salomon, an ecologist; Dana Lepofsky, an archaeologist; and University of Washington biologist Kirsten Rowell.

In the past, as indigenous coastal communities from Alaska to Washington State grew in numbers, people needed to devise sustainable ways of feeding themselves. One of the ways they did this was by cultivating clams in human-made, rock-walled beach terraces known as clam gardens.

When the researchers transplanted more than 800 baby clams into six ancient clam gardens and five non-walled natural beaches to compare their growth rates they made a groundbreaking discovery.

They found that the ancient clam gardens produced quadruple the number of butter clams and twice the number of littleneck clams as the unmodified clam beaches.

They also found that clams in the ancient gardens grew almost twice as fast and were more likely to survive than baby clams transplanted into unmodified beaches in the same area.

It is the first study to provide empirical evidence of ancient clam gardens’ superior productivity.

“We discovered that by flattening the slope of the beach ancient clam gardens expanded the real-estate for clams at the intertidal height at which they grow and survive best,” explains Salomon, an assistant professor in The School of Resource and Environmental Management.

“Traditional knowledge by coastal First Nations members further revealed that their ancestors boosted these gardens’ productivity by adding ground clam shell and pebbles to them.”

The researchers began their clam garden investigations in 2008. From 2009 to 2011 they focused their efforts on Quadra Island due to the sheer number of clam gardens available to survey and use as experimental replicates.

They surveyed 11 ancient clam gardens and 10 un-walled clam beaches and compared the number, size and weight of clams. They collaborated with indigenous knowledge holders from the Tla’amin First Nation and Laich-kwil-tach Treaty Society.

“Our discovery provides practical insights into sustainable ancient marine management techniques that can inform local food security strategies today,” says Groesbeck, who graduated in 2013. She is now a research assistant at the University of Washington.

According to the study, some of today’s shellfish aquaculture practices have been shown to undermine near-shore ecosystem resilience. They “alter the community composition of near-shore systems, change sediment characteristics, and facilitate the introduction of invasive species.”

Lepofsky says, “On the Northwest Coast we are fortunate to have both the tangible record of clam gardens and the culture-based knowledge of local indigenous people to educate us. The lessons learned here have global implications for food security, and about the way indigenous people interact with their land and seascapes.”

Lepofsky is now leading an archaeological team that is comparing the growth rate of clams prior to and during the time when ancient clam gardens were prevalent. The team has expanded its research to the province’s central coast and elsewhere via the Clam Garden Network, a newly formed group involving Aboriginal people and Parks Canada researchers.

“One of the reasons this study is so compelling is that it combines First Nations knowledge with the tools of archaeology and ecology,” says Lepofsky.

“While archaeologists often work with First Nations, it is somewhat rare in ecology. The combination of these three sources of knowledge is very powerful.”

The study has been published in PLOS One.

Original article:

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Topic: Oyster Shell Middens

Recently while on a birding vacation in Washington State near the Quinault Indian Reservation we happened upon a couple of ancient oyster shell middens (piles of accumulated shells). Below is information I found on shell sites here in the northwest plus a couple of photos my husband took.

Shellfish Heritage
A Heritage of Harvest
Ancient Affections . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Romans adored them . . . the French ible and were subject to dramatic over-harvest-
loved them . . . the Japanese cultivated
them . . . and Native Americans revered them. This beloved and renowned resource is the oyster––queen of the bivalves. Suffice it to say, people and cultures around the world have long shared a romantic and culinary obsession with oysters and other shellfish.
ing. Conservation measures emerged in Europe in the 17 and 18 centuries.

In France’s Basin of Arcachon, for instance, harvest bans helped restore severely depleted oyster reefs only to be followed by repeated cycles of ruin and recovery. The Japanese pioneered oyster aquaculture tech- niques several centuries ago after observing oyster larvae settling on the leaves of bamboo stalks used in Manila clam fisheries.

A Northwest Tradition . .
Few natural resources provide a more fitting symbol of a region’s heritage and environment than Washington’s rich shellfish resources. Pacific Northwest tribes have lived in the region for more than 10,000 years, and archeologists have uncovered shell middens (piles of accumulated shells) dating back more than 4,000 years. Shellfish provided sustenance and figured prominently in tribal spiritual beliefs. So ingrained are shellfish in tribal customs that the native Quinault language includes a phrase, ta’aWshi xa’iits’os, meaning “clam hungry.”

Captain George Vancouver and other early explor- ers of the Pacific Northwest observed tidelands strewn with oysters and other shellfish. The influx of settlers that soon followed, however, placed unprecedented demands on these rich resources.
In the 1850s, tribal governments in Washington Territory signed treaties with the U.S. government relinquishing land, but reserving rights to fish and harvest shellfish in usual and accustomed areas except for staked or cultivated shellfish beds. U.S. district court decisions in 1974 and 1994 reaf- firmed these treaty rights. Washington state sold many of its tidelands to private landowners under the 1895 Bush and Callow acts to bolster and pro- mote oyster production.
Commercial shellfish harvesting took off in the early 1850s. Oyster-laden schooners transported native oysters from Willapa Bay (known then as Shoal-Water Bay), and later Puget Sound, to gold prospectors and entrepreneurs in northern California who had exhausted local oyster stocks and paid as much as a dollar a piece for the gems. The venture proved enormously lucrative, but also devastating to Olympia oyster populations in many Northwest areas by the late 1800s. The results prompted growers to explore different cultivation techniques, such as grading and diking oyster beds, and to import and cultivate oyster species from other parts of the world. The imports also created unexpected problems with the introduction of such non-native plants and animals as spartina and oyster-drill snails.
The most successful import was the Japanese or Pacific oyster, first introduced in Puget Sound in the early 1920s and a mainstay of the West Coast shellfish industry ever since. A side benefit was the unintentional introduction of the Manila clam, which has emerged as the state’s top com- mercially farmed clam. Aquaculture practices evolved dramatically in the ensuing decades
to include hatchery and nursery systems and numerous other advances.

Fascinating Facts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

• Indian Tribes have harvested shellfish in the Pacific Northwest for more than 4,000 years.
• The Japanese are credited with pioneering shellfish aquaculture techniques.
• The Olympia oyster, the only native Northwest oyster, is named after and helped bring the state capital to Olympia.
• Tribal governments in Washington Territory signed treaties in the 1850s relinquishing land and reserving rights to fish and harvest shellfish.
• The Bush and Callow acts of 1895 put many of Washington’s tidelands into private ownership for oyster production.

Commercial production is only part of the state’s shellfish story. Shellfish serve as cul- tural and environmental icons in the Pacific Northwest, shaping modern social customs in much the same way they have influenced tribal traditions. Here’s a glimpse into this rich and thriving heritage:
• The first weekend each October more than 25,000 people gather in Shelton in Mason County for the many activities of OysterFest, including the oppor- tunity to sample wares at the Washington State Seafood Festival and to cheer on competitors in the West Coast Oyster Shucking Championship.
• EveryNovemberagroupknownastheclamdiggers, descendants of pioneers who settled in Washington Territory prior to statehood in 1889, gather in Lynden in Whatcom County to share a bowl of clam chowder and to honor their ancestors and the state. The tradition started in 1891 when four Lynden men spent two days traveling to Birch Bay in Whatcom County to gather clams for a community feast.
• Every day scores of residents and tourists gather at waterfront restaurants and oyster bars from Seattle to Ilwaco to enjoy the bounty of fresh, home-grown shellfish.
• Citizensandorganizationsareworkingtogetherto set up community shellfish farms to involve people in the experience of shellfish farming and to instill a finer appreciation of the resource. The first two farms are located in Drayton Harbor in Whatcom County and Henderson Inlet in Thurston County.
Photo courtesy Taylor Shellfish Farms
Harvesting longline oysters in Samish Bay, Skagit County
• More than 30,000 people a day participate in the state’s biggest recreational shellfish adventure— razor clam digging on the coast. Diggers pursue the clams by daylight or lantern based on “shows” in the sand as the clams attempt to burrow their way to safety. The popular fishery has been described as one of those wonderfully peculiar expressions of the Northwest’s natural heritage.
A closer look reveals a Northwest love affair that isn’t fading away, but instead is being renewed with great opportunities to enjoy and celebrate the ancient resource—a resource that continues to anchor and define the Northwest lifestyle.

Original material:
puget sound archives
Photos by Michael Poe


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