Coastal shell middens and agricultural origins in Atlantic Europe

Project: Research project (funded)Research

Project Details


The aims of the project were to develop and apply new techniques of analysis to shell middens and the mollusc shells contained within them to throw light on the nature of the coastal economies spanning the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods in Northwest Europe, and to examine the role of coastlines and marine resources in that transition

Layman's description

An examination of the ways in which prehistoric people exploited coastal and marine resources between about 8000 and 4000 years ago in Northwest Europe, and the contribution that such a way of life made to the earliest introduction of farming into the region

Key findings

The project developed new techniques for analysing seasonality of shellgathering in prehistoric shell middens, using analysis of growth structures, and applied these to a wide range of midden sites ranging from Mesolithic Spain to Viking-age Scotland, and from prehistoric and historic Ireland to Mesolithic and Neolithic Denmark. It also critically applied and developed new biomolecular methods for the reconstruction of palaeodiets from the stable isotope composition of human bone and from food residues in ceramic vessels. These results opened up new perspectives on the relationship between earlier coastal and later farming communities, allowed a critical appraisal of some long-standing assumptions about the nature of the so-called Neolithic Revolution, opened up a wide range of international collaborations, stimulated an international workshop, culminated in two edited monographs in addition to a large number of journal papers and chapters in books, significantly advanced the careers of the participants, and laid the foundations for new and ongoing research.
Effective start/end date1/10/0431/05/06


  • AHRC: £86,712.00