Probably Some Stupid Questions????

Pete E
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I have a few rather obscure, possibly stupid questions re the presence of oysters on a dig...They stem from the fact that the site I was on in Lincolnshire last week was littered with shell fish shells. The vast majority were oyster but there was a sprinkling of other types too..

Given the distance from the sea, these must have been brought in as a food source. Now I know oysters were a favourite with the Romans, but how long were they a common food source eaten by the masses so to speak?

Are they a common find on sites of other eras? Finally, is there anyway the shells themselves can be dated?

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Peter
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Hordfindend
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It's not a stupid question at all. Oyster shells are a really good sign there'll be early finds on a site.

I often wondered about how they got them inland, but I was talking to one of my farmers a week or so ago. I enjoy talking to him, because he's always got some interesting stuff to talk about.
Anyway, he was talking about how he had dredged his pond and they were surprised to find loads of freshwater oysters. He said they moved them all to another pond where they can oyster away, filtering the water.

So that's how they get to sites. And, in history, they were the food of the common folc because they were cheap and abundant.
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fred
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It depends upon how near the sea that you are. Lincolnshire has lots of coast so seafood was probably a staple until the late 19thC. The distance limitation was how long they'd stay alive in a barrel being trundled along in a cart. That changed once the railways arrived and they became a staple food until overfishing finally made it once again a food for the rich. :D
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fred
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Hordfindend wrote: Mon Jun 20, 2022 5:25 pm It's not a stupid question at all. Oyster shells are a really good sign there'll be early finds on a site.

I often wondered about how they got them inland, but I was talking to one of my farmers a week or so ago. I enjoy talking to him, because he's always got some interesting stuff to talk about.
Anyway, he was talking about how he had dredged his pond and they were surprised to find loads of freshwater oysters. He said they moved them all to another pond where they can oyster away, filtering the water.

So that's how they get to sites. And, in history, they were the food of the common folc because they were cheap and abundant.
I think that he probably meant clams. :thumbsup:
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Hordfindend
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fred wrote: Mon Jun 20, 2022 5:34 pm
Hordfindend wrote: Mon Jun 20, 2022 5:25 pm It's not a stupid question at all. Oyster shells are a really good sign there'll be early finds on a site.

I often wondered about how they got them inland, but I was talking to one of my farmers a week or so ago. I enjoy talking to him, because he's always got some interesting stuff to talk about.
Anyway, he was talking about how he had dredged his pond and they were surprised to find loads of freshwater oysters. He said they moved them all to another pond where they can oyster away, filtering the water.

So that's how they get to sites. And, in history, they were the food of the common folc because they were cheap and abundant.
I think that he probably meant clams. :thumbsup:
Technically they'd be freshwater bivalves, but, folc back then might have called them ostre or clemman. But they have the mother of pearl and the occasional pearl, so oyster is a reasonable name for them.
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Easylife
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Don't forget that a lot of land was once seabed so there can sometimes be shells and fossils from then and Lincolnshire is generally quite flat. :Thinking:
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Hordfindend
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Easylife wrote: Mon Jun 20, 2022 6:02 pm Don't forget that a lot of land was once seabed so there can sometimes be shells and fossils from then and Lincolnshire is generally quite flat. :Thinking:
Obviously Yorkshire was the actual Garden of Eden..
Pete E
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Thanks for all the replies... I presume what I could see were oysters rather than freshwater mussels...I am not aware of any other freshwater shell fish native to the UK? The site is too far from the sea for them to have been there naturally, even allowing for subsequent drainage/land reclamation...
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There's a lake behind the house full of fresh water mussels. The shells turn up all over the place as herons and foxes take them from the shallow waters edge. When I saw the post I just wandered down to the drive knowing there would be a scattering of shells and that's about 40m from the lake - they turn up most mornings. They used to be eaten back through the centuries. We are in North Surrey.
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Great question :thumbsup: It seems they were transported quite widely in some time periods. This article is very interesting if you want to know more about evidence based info on eating of them, etc. in different time periods.

In my area, land locked Oxfordshire, we have fossilised oyster shells but rarely find any from near history (the last few thousand years).
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Easylife
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DaveP wrote: Mon Jun 20, 2022 8:02 pm There's a lake behind the house full of fresh water mussels. The shells turn up all over the place as herons and foxes take them from the shallow waters edge.
Same on one of my fields with a stream alongside, they get freshly deposited on the surface.
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Pete E wrote: Mon Jun 20, 2022 4:58 pm
Given the distance from the sea, these must have been brought in as a food source.
Probably right but shells can be used for making lime for changing soil pH, added to mortar etc. Still suggests the shells were imported to the area but may not only have been for food. Just a thought.
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Easylife
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DaveP wrote: Mon Jun 20, 2022 10:40 pm Still suggests the shells were imported to the area but may not only have been for food. Just a thought.
Then that really is food for thought! :lol:
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Not a stupid question at all as it just leads to more information. I was aware of tempering pottery clay with sand or flint but not shells.

https://potsherd.net/atlas/Ware/LRSH

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Late ... re_pot.jpg

kentarchaeology.org.uk/Research/02/05/02/056.htm
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fred
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Haulage was relatively expensive so the chances are that anything deliberately brought to an area would be fully utilised.

Importation of shells just for soil dressing would only be viable if there were no other more local sources of lime, like chalk. For the same reason I would have though that because of the bulk issue they'd be reduced before they were transported or scattered on land so you probably wouldn't find many whole shells in land dressing.

It would also be useful to consider when there were enough people living locally to have deposited the volume of shells that you now see. If there were really not that many you might just have the domestic waste from a few local families which had been spread on the land for a century or two.

You should be able to get some idea about the likely age from the associated finds, perhaps even non metal ones like bits of clay pipe stem, pottery or glass. :thumbsup:
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