Clearing up clouded waters: palaeoenvironmental analysis of freshwater mussel assemblages from the Green River shell middens, western Kentucky

Darcy F. Morey, George M. Crothers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Despite much progress in the analysis of Middle and Late Archaic Period (c. 6000-3000 BP) shell midden sites along the Green River, many issues remain unresolved. One area of concern is the relationship between malacological and geoarchaeological data. Specifically, archaeological mussel assemblages have been interpreted to suggest shallow, swiftly flowing sections of river near the sites, whereas geoarchaeological discussions have been interpreted to indicate a deep, sluggish channel. This apparent contradiction has contributed to discussions that question the traditionally presumed dietary role of the shellfish, positing instead, for example, that shell could have been transported long distances in order to construct mortuary monuments. In this paper we show that the notion of a contradiction between malacological and geoarchaeological data is false. On the one hand, an analysis of mussles from the haynes site (15BT11) supports a previous reconstruction of stream conditions based on malacological data from the nearby Carlston Annis site (15BT5). On the other hand, geoarchaeological discussions have been misconstrued through literal interpretation of generalizations that apply at a broad, geological scale. Supporting data, especially from pre-impoundment survey maps, suggest that the stretches of river in question included suitable habitat for the mussel species that dominate the middens. With this point of confusion resolved, we plan subsequent research to expand the data base at Haynes and other shell-bearing sites, focusing on overall palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, taphonimic processes, site distributions in relation to geomorphological contexts, and dietary analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)907-926
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1998

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Analysis of the shells was funded through Patty Jo Watson’s research account at Washington University. Paul W. Parmalee (University of Tennessee) provided technical consultation for this work, and arranged access to the Molluscan Comparative Collection at the Frank H. McClung Museum, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Robert E. Warren (Illinois State Museum) provided additional technical consultation, along with a copy of his UNIO program. The staV at the Kentucky Museum Library at Western Kentucky University allowed us to have the old Green River survey maps photographed, a task accomplished by John Baker at Shutterbug Photo in Bowling Green. Special thanks to Julie Stein and Patty Jo Watson, for spending several productive hours with us in St. Louis, poring over the old maps and discussing related research issues, a session coordinated by Watson. Finally, we thank Patty Jo Watson, Julie Stein, William Marquardt and Paul W. Parmalee, for their thoughtful comments on earlier versions of this presentation.

Funding Information:
Fieldwork at the Haynes shell midden was supported in part by the Cave Research Foundation Archaeological Program, the Kentucky Heritage Council and Washington University in St. Louis. Many residents of the Big Bend have supported the Shell Mound Archaeological Project over the years. We particularly thank Maitland B. Rice, who kindly gave us permission to conduct excavations at the Haynes site; Waldemar and Ethie Annis, who provided field accommodations; and Doris and Carroll Tichenor, who provided bibliographic help and use of their canoe. But most importantly, we value the friendship and support of all of the people of Logansport who make working in the Big Bend so enjoyable.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


Dive into the research topics of 'Clearing up clouded waters: palaeoenvironmental analysis of freshwater mussel assemblages from the Green River shell middens, western Kentucky'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this