Document Type


Date of Original Version



Biological Sciences


Archaeologists analyzing shell middens typically focus on larger (>2 cm) mollusks to examine subsistence practices, impacts on littoral habitats, and paleoenvironmental conditions as well as a host of other natural and cultural phenomena. Small (<2 cm), non-dietary gastropods in archaeological shell middens also provide important clues regarding human resource procurement in littoral areas and coastal paleoenvironments. We present data from two sites on the California Channel Islands to demonstrate the range of information that can be gained by analyzing small gastropod shells. Identifications revealed the remains of over 4500 non-dietary small gastropods from 75 taxa. Human harvesting of marine macrophytes is suggested by the presence of 18 species that are predominantly associated with seaweeds and seagrasses. Quantification measures revealed high diversity and equitability indices, oscillating taxonomic richness, and decreasing densities through time at both sites. Likelihood ratio tests revealed differences in assemblage composition between Early Holocene and later components at one site, and demonstrated similarities in the relative composition of non-dietary shell assemblages between both sites during the Middle Holocene. Incorporating detailed studies of less conspicuous “incidental” shellfish remains in archaeological midden studies has the potential to contribute to our understanding of past human land use practices and littoral paleoecology. Our findings are applicable to archaeologists working in coastal settings around the world, as well as marine ecologists interested in intertidal paleo-habitats and kelp forest ecosystems.