A Tale of Two Shell Middens: The Natural versus the Cultural in “Obanian” Deposits at Carding Mill Bay, Oban, Western Scotland

  • László Bartosiewicz
  • Lydia Zapata
  • Clive Bonsall


Composed largely of mollusc shells resulting from food procurement activities, coastal shell middens have been regarded as valuable sources of information about past human exploitation of coastal and marine resources. It is less widely appreciated that these sites, which lie at the interface between the sea and the land, have significant potential to inform us about the terrestrial environment and its resources. In this chapter, an attempt has been made to integrate results of paleoethnobotanical and zooarchaeological studies with existing archaeological knowledge concerning Mesolithic and Neolithic environments and subsistence at a shell midden site on the west coast of Scotland. We compare and contrast the information derived from macrobotanical and vertebrate faunal remains from two locations at the site of Carding Mill Bay. Although the midden deposits were also studied from the malacological point of view, the shellfish remains are not considered here as they characterize only the marine environment. Moreover, the terrestrial component of a midden may tell us more about post-depositional taphonomic processes than the marine component.


Bank Vole Wood Charcoal Field Vole Shell Midden Midden Deposit 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The excavations at CMB II were sponsored by Historic Scotland. Clive Bonsall thanks the landowner, Mr Danny Keenan, for his forbearance throughout the excavations, and members of the Lorn Archaeological & Historical Society (especially, Margaret Kay and Charles Hunter) for their assistance in the field.


  1. Anderson, Joseph. 1895. Notice of a Cave Recently Discovered at Oban, Containing Human Remains and a Refuse Heap of Shells and Bones of Animals, and Stone and Bone Implements. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 29:211–230.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, Joseph. 1898. Notes on the Contents of a Small Cave or Rock Shelter at Druimvargie, Oban; and of Three Shell Mounds on Oronsay. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 32:298–313.Google Scholar
  3. Andrews, Peter. 1990. Owls, Caves and Fossils. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  4. Angel, Heather. 1977. Life in Our Estuaries. Jarrald, Norwich.Google Scholar
  5. Barnes, John Anthony Godsmark (editor). 1975. Birds of the British Isles and Their Eggs. Warne, London, U.K.Google Scholar
  6. Barrett, James, Rebecca Nicholson, and Ruby Cerón-Carrasco. 1999. Archeo-ichthyological Evidence for Long-Term Economic Trends in Northern Scotland: 3500 bc to ad 1500 ad . Journal of Archaeological Science 26:353–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bartosiewicz, László. 1988. Water-sieving Experiment at Örménykút, Site 54. In Archaeometrical Research in Hungary, edited by Márta Járó and László Költő, pp. 267–274. National Centre of Museums, Budapest.Google Scholar
  8. Bartosiewicz, László, and Erika Gál. 2007. Sample Size and Taxonomic Richness in Mammalian and Avian Bone Assemblages from Archaeological Sites. Archeometriai Műhely 1:37–44.Google Scholar
  9. Bencze, Lajos. 1978. A vadállomány fenntartásának lehetőségei. A vadászati ökológia alapjai [Wildlife Maintenance. The Fundamentals of Game Ecology]. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest.Google Scholar
  10. Boardman, Sheila J. 1993. Carding Mill Bay: The Charred Plant Remains. In Excavation of a Shell Midden Site at Carding Mill Bay Near Oban, Scotland by Kenneth D. Connock, Bill Finlayson, and Coralie M. Mills, Glasgow Archaeological Journal 17:35, M98–101.Google Scholar
  11. Bolomey, Alexandra. 1973. An Outline of the Late Epipalaeolithic Economy at the ‘Iron Gates’, the Evidence on Bones. Dacia 17:41–52.Google Scholar
  12. Bonsall, Clive. 1996. The ‘Obanian Problem’: Coastal Adaptation in the Mesolithic of Western Scotland. In The Early Prehistory of Scotland, edited by Tony Pollard and Alex Morrison, pp. 183–197. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, Scotland.Google Scholar
  13. Bonsall, Clive, and Christopher A. Smith. 1992. New AMS 14C Dates for Antler and Bone Artifacts from Great Britain. Mesolithic Miscellany 13(2):28–33.Google Scholar
  14. Bonsall, Clive, and Donald G. Sutherland. 1992. The Oban Caves. In The South-West Scottish Highlands: Field Guide, edited by Michel J. C. Walker, J. Murray Gray and John J. Lowe, pp. 115–121. Quaternary Research Association, Cambridge, U.K.Google Scholar
  15. Bonsall, Clive, Donald G. Sutherland, Nancy J. Russell, Geraint Coles, Christopher Paul, Jacqui Huntley, and Timothy J. Lawson. 1994. Excavations in Ulva Cave, Western Scotland 1990–91: A Preliminary Report. Mesolithic Miscellany 15:8–21.Google Scholar
  16. Campbell, Andrew C. 1989. The Hamlyn Guide to Seashores and Shallow Seas of Britain and Europe. Hamlyn, London, U.K.Google Scholar
  17. Cerón-Carrasco, Ruby. 1992. Assessment of the Fish Bone Remains from Scar, Sanday. Unpublished report, AOC (Scotland) Ltd, Edinburgh, Scotland.Google Scholar
  18. Connock, Kenneth D., Bill Finlayson, and Coralie M. Mills. 1993. Excavation of a Shell Midden Site at Carding Mill Bay, near Oban, Scotland. Glasgow Archaeological Journal 17:25–38.Google Scholar
  19. Cooke, Richard G., Lynette Norr, and Dolores R. Piperno. 1996. Native Americans and the Panamanian Landscape. In Case Studies in Environmental Archaeology, edited by E. J. Reitz, L. A. Newsom, and S. J. Scudder, pp. 103–126. Plenum Press, New York.Google Scholar
  20. Davies, Fay M. 1997. Holocene Palaeoenvironmental Studies in the Oban Region, Western Scotland. Unpublished PhD dissertation, Department of Geography, University of Newcastle upon Tyne.Google Scholar
  21. Gautier, Achilles. 1987. Taphonomic Groups: How and Why? Archaeozoologia 1(2):47–52.Google Scholar
  22. Grayson, Donald K. 1984. Quantitative Zooarchaeology. Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  23. Griffitts, Janet, and Clive Bonsall. 2001. Experimental Determination of the Function of Antler and Bone ‘Bevel-ended Tools’ from Prehistoric Shell Middens in Western Scotland. In Crafting Bone – Skeletal Technologies through Time and Space: Proceedings of the 2nd Meeting of the (ICAZ) Worked Bone Research Group, Budapest, 31 August–5 September 1999, edited by Alice M. Choyke and László Bartosiewicz, pp. 209–222. Archaeopress, Oxford (BAR S937).Google Scholar
  24. Grigson, Caroline. 1989. Bird-foraging Patterns in the Mesolithic. In The Mesolithic in Europe, edited by Clive Bonsall, pp. 60–72. John Donald, Edinburgh, Scotland.Google Scholar
  25. Grigson, Caroline, and Paul A. Mellars. 1987. The Mammalian Remains from the Middens. In Excavations on Oronsay Prehistoric Human Ecology on a Small Island, edited by Paul A. Mellars, pp. 243–289. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, Scotland.Google Scholar
  26. Hamilton-Dyer, Sheila. 1993. Carding Mill Bay: Summary Note on the Bird and Fish Bones and the Crustacean Remains. In Excavation of a Shell Midden Site at Carding Mill Bay Near Oban, Scotland by Kenneth D. Connock, Bill Finlayson and Coralie M. Mills, Glasgow Archaeological Journal 17:94–97.Google Scholar
  27. Hamilton-Dyer, Sheila, and Finbar McCormick. 1993. The Animal Bones. In Excavation of a Shell Midden Site at Carding Mill Bay Near Oban, Scotland by Kenneth D. Connock, Bill Finlayson and Coralie M. Mills, Glasgow Archaeological Journal 17:34.Google Scholar
  28. Hather, Jon G. 1993 An Archaeobotanical Guide to Root and Tuber Identification, Vol. I. Oxbow Books, Oxford, U.K.Google Scholar
  29. Lacaille, Armand D. 1954. The Stone Age in Scotland. Oxford University Press, London, U.K.Google Scholar
  30. Mason, Sarah. 1996. Hazelnut (Corylus spp.) as a Past Food Resource? Unpublished report compiled by Sarah Mason with comments from discussants. University College London, Institute of Archaeology, Bioarchaeology Discussion Group, 28th February 1996.Google Scholar
  31. Matthews, L. Harrison. 1989. British Mammals. Bloomsbury, London, U.K.Google Scholar
  32. McCormick, Finbar. 1993. Carding Mill Bay: The Animal Bone. In Excavation of a Shell Midden Site at Carding Mill Bay Near Oban, Scotland by Kenneth D. Connock, Bill Finlayson, and Coralie M. Mills, Glasgow Archaeological Journal 17:90–93.Google Scholar
  33. McCormick, Finbar, and Paul C. Buckland. 1997. Faunal Change. In Scotland: Environment and Archaeology, 8000 bc ad 1000, edited by Kenneth J. Edwards and Ian B. M. Ralston, pp. 83–104. Wiley, Chichester, U.K.Google Scholar
  34. Mellars, Paul A., and Michael R. Wilkinson. 1980. Fish Otoliths as Indicators of Seasonality in Prehistoric Shell Middens: The Evidence from Oronsay (Inner Hebrides). Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 46:19–44.Google Scholar
  35. Mercer, John. 1974. Hebridean Islands. Colonsay, Gigha, Jura. Blackie, Glasgow, Scotland.Google Scholar
  36. Mitchell, W.R., and Peter Delap. 1974. Lakeland Mammals. Dalesman, Clapham.Google Scholar
  37. Moffett, Lisa, Mark A. Robinson, and Vanessa Straker. 1990. Cereals, Fruit and Nuts: Charred Plant Remains from Neolithic Sites in England and Wales, In The Beginnings of Agriculture, edited by Annie Milles, Diane Williams, and Neville Gardner, pp. 243–261. Archaeopress, Oxford, U.K.Google Scholar
  38. Movius, Hallam L. 1942. The Irish Stone Age: Its Chronology, Development and Relations. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K.Google Scholar
  39. Muus, Bent J., and Preben Dahlstrøm. 1977. Collins Guide to the Sea Fishes of Britain and North-Western Europe. Collins, London, U.K.Google Scholar
  40. Parker, Adrian G., Andrew S. Goudie, David E. Anderson, Mark A. Robinson, and Clive Bonsall. 2002. A Review of the Mid-Holocene Elm Decline in the British Isles. Progress in Physical Geography 26:1–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Schweingruber, Fritz H. 1990. Anatomy of European Woods. Paul Haupt, Bern.Google Scholar
  42. Serjeantson, Dale. 1988. Archaeological and Ethnographic Evidence for Seabird Exploitation in Scotland. Archaeozoologia 2:209–224.Google Scholar
  43. Smart, Tristine Lee, and Ellen S. Hoffman. 1988. Environmental Interpretation of Archaeological Charcoal. In Current Paleoethnobotany, edited by Christine A. Hastorf and Virginia S. Popper, pp. 167–205. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  44. van den Brink, Frederik H. 1968. A Field Guide to Mammals of Britain and Europe. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.Google Scholar
  45. Watt, John P. 1991. Prey Selection of Coastal Otters (Lutra lutra) on the Isle of Mull. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen.Google Scholar
  46. Zapata, Lydia, and Leonor Peña-Chocarro. 2003. Uso y Gestión del Bosque en la Euskal Herria Atlántica: Aprovechamiento Tradicional de los Recursos Forestales en Encartaciones y Gorbea. Zainak 22:201–215.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • László Bartosiewicz
    • 1
  • Lydia Zapata
  • Clive Bonsall
  1. 1.Institute of Archaeological SciencesLoránd Eötvös UniversityBudapestHungary

Personalised recommendations