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An Integrated Approach to the Taxonomic Identification of Prehistoric Shell Ornaments

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JournalPLoS ONE
DatePublished - 17 Jun 2014
Issue number6
Volume9
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Shell beads appear to have been one of the earliest examples of personal adornments. Marine shells identified far from the shore evidence long-distance transport and imply networks of exchange and negotiation. However, worked beads lose taxonomic clues to identification, and this may be compounded by taphonomic alteration. Consequently, the significance of this key early artefact may be underestimated. We report the use of bulk amino acid composition of the stable intra-crystalline proteins preserved in shell biominerals and the application of pattern recognition methods to a large dataset (777 samples) to demonstrate that taxonomic identification can be achieved at genus level. Amino acid analyses are fast (<2 hours per sample) and micro-destructive (sample size <2 mg). Their integration with non-destructive techniques provides a valuable and affordable tool, which can be used by archaeologists and museum curators to gain insight into early exploitation of natural resources by humans. Here we combine amino acid analyses, macro- and microstructural observations (by light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy) and Raman spectroscopy to try to identify the raw material used for beads discovered at the Early Bronze Age site of Great Cornard (UK). Our results show that at least two shell taxa were used and we hypothesise that these were sourced locally.

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© The Authors 2014. This content is made available by the publisher under a Creative Commons CC BY Licence

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