Prey selection, size, and breakage differences in Turbo undulatus opercula found within Pacific Gull (Larus pacificus) middens compared to Aboriginal middens and natural beach deposits, southeast Australia

John sherwood, Ian James McNiven, Laurie Laurenson, Thomas Henry Richards, Jim Bowler

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6 Citations (Scopus)


Qualitative discrimination criteria are employed commonly to distinguish cultural shell middens from natural shell deposits. Quantitative discrimination criteria remain less developed beyond an assumption that natural shell beds tend to contain a wider range of shell sizes compared to cultural shell middens. This study further tests this assumption and provides the first comparative quantitative analysis of shell sizes from cultural middens, bird middens, and beach shell beds. Size distributions of opercula of the marine gastropod Turbo undulatus within two modern Pacific Gull middens are compared with two Aboriginal middens (early and late Holocene) and two modern beach deposits from southeast Australia. Results reveal statistically significant differences between bird middens and other types of shell deposits, and that opercula size distributions are useful to distinguish Aboriginal middens from bird middens but not from beach deposits. Supplementary qualitative analysis of taphonomic alteration of opercula reveal similar opercula breakage patterns in human and bird middens, and further support previously recognised criteria to distinguished beach deposits (water rolling and bioerosion) and human middens (burning). In all cases, we advocate continued complementary use of qualitative criteria such as the presence/absence of human artefacts (in cultural middens) and foraminifera (in beach deposits).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-23
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Prey selection
  • Taphonomy
  • Turbo
  • Aboriginal middens
  • Bird middens
  • Beach deposits
  • Southeast Australia

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