A midden (also kitchen midden or shell heap) is an old dump for domestic waste[1] which may consist of animal bone, human excrement, botanical material, mollusc shells, sherds, lithics (especially debitage), and other artifacts and ecofacts associated with past human occupation.

These features, therefore, provide a useful resource for archaeologists who wish to study the diets and habits of past societies. Middens with damp, anaerobic conditions can even preserve organic remains in deposits as the debris of daily life are tossed on the pile. Each individual toss will contribute a different mix of materials depending upon the activity associated with that particular toss. During the course of deposition sedimentary material is deposited as well. Different mechanisms, from wind and water to animal digs, create a matrix which can also be analyzed to provide seasonal and climatic information. In some middens individual dumps of material can be discerned and analysed.[2]

Conchero al sur de Puerto Deseado
A closeup of a shell midden in Argentina.

Shell middens

Whaleback Shell Midden gully - 20070722 07986
The Whaleback Shell Midden in Maine resulted from oyster harvesting from 200 BC to 1000 AD.

A shell midden or shell mound is an archaeological feature consisting mainly of mollusk shells. The Danish term køkkenmøddinger (plural) was first used by Japetus Steenstrup to describe shell heaps and continues to be used by some researchers. A midden, by definition, contains the debris of human activity, and should not be confused with wind or tide created beach mounds. Some shell middens are processing remains: areas where aquatic resources were processed directly after harvest and prior to use or storage in a distant location.

Some shell middens are directly associated with villages, as a designated village dump site. In other middens, the material is directly associated with a house in the village. Each household would dump its garbage directly outside the house. In all cases, shell middens are extremely complex and very difficult to excavate fully and exactly. The fact that they contain a detailed record of what food was eaten or processed and many fragments of stone tools and household goods makes them invaluable objects of archaeological study.

Shells have a high calcium carbonate content, which tends to make the middens alkaline. This slows the normal rate of decay caused by soil acidity, leaving a relatively high proportion of organic material (food remnants, organic tools, clothing, human remains) available for archaeologists to find.[3]

Edward Sylvester Morse conducted one of the first archaeological excavations of shellmounds in Omori, Japan in 1877, which led to the discovery of a style of pottery described as "cord-marked", translated as "Jōmon", which came to be used to refer to the early period of Japanese history when this style of pottery was produced.[4][5] Shell middens were studied in Denmark in the latter half of the 19th century. The Danish word køkkenmødding (kitchen mound) is now used internationally. The English word "midden" (waste mound) derives from the same Old Norse word that produced the modern Danish one.[6]


TurtleMound1970 FPS1191
The Turtle Mound shell midden, in Florida, is the largest on the US East Coast.

Shell middens are found in coastal or lakeshore zones all over the world. Consisting mostly of mollusc shells, they are interpreted as being the waste products of meals eaten by nomadic groups or hunting parties. Some are small examples relating to meals had by a handful of individuals, others are many metres in length and width and represent centuries of shell deposition. In Brazil, they are known as sambaquis, having been created over a long period between the 6th millennium BC and the beginning of European colonisation.

European shell middens are primarily found along the Atlantic seaboard and in Denmark and primarily date to the 5th millennium BC (Ertebølle and Early Funnel Beaker cultures), containing the remains of the earliest Neolithisation process (pottery, cereals and domestic animals). Younger shell middens are found in Latvia (associated with Comb Ware ceramics), Sweden (associated with Pitted Ware ceramics), the Netherlands (associated with Corded Ware ceramics) and Schleswig-Holstein (Late Neolithic and Iron Age). All these are examples where communities practiced a mixed farming and hunting/gathering economy.

On Canada's west coast, there are shell middens that run for more than a kilometer along the coast and are several meters deep.[7] The midden in Namu, British Columbia is over 9 meters deep and spans over 10,000 years of continuous occupation.

Shell middens created in coastal regions of Australia by indigenous Australians exist in Australia today. Middens provide evidence of prior occupation and are generally protected from mining and other developments. One must exercise caution in deciding whether one is examining a midden or a beach mound. There are good examples on the Freycinet Peninsula in Tasmania where wave action currently is combining charcoal from forest fire debris with a mix of shells into masses that storms deposit above high-water mark. Shell mounds near Weipa in far north Queensland that are mostly less than 2 meters high (although ranging up to 10 meters high) and a few tens of meters long are claimed to be middens,[8] but are in fact shell cheniers (beach ridges) re-worked by nest mound-building birds.[9]

Shell mounds are also credited with the creation of tropical hardwood hammocks, one example being the Otter mound preserve in Florida, where shell deposits from Calusa natives provided flood free high areas in otherwise large watered areas.[10]

There are instances in which shell middens may have doubled as areas of ceremonial construction or ritual significance. The Woodland period Crystal River site provides an example of this phenomenon.[11]

Some shell mounds, known as shell rings, are circular or open arcs with a clear central area. Many are known from Japan and the southeastern United States, and at least one from South America.[12]


The word is of Scandinavian via Middle English derivation; from early Scandinavian; Danish: mødding, Swedish regional: mödding)[13], and is today used by archaeologists worldwide to describe any kind of feature containing waste products relating to day-to-day human life. They may be convenient, single-use pits created by nomadic groups or long-term, designated dumps used by sedentary communities that accumulate over several generations.

The word "midden" is still in everyday use in Scotland and Northern England, and has come by extension to refer to anything that is a mess, including people and pets. This use was also taken to Northern Ireland by Scottish plantation settlers. Privy middens were common in Manchester. In West Yorkshire, a midden is also an outside lavatory, typically in the back yards of terraced houses. Often attached to this small building is an outhouse which houses dustbins.

The word is used by farmers in Britain to describe the place where farm yard manure from cows or other animals is collected. Grants are sometimes available to protect these from rain to avoid runoff and pollution.[14][15]

Red squirrel midden
Squirrel midden, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

In the animal kingdom, some species establish ground burrows, also known as middens, that are used mostly for food storage. For example, the North American red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) usually has one large active midden in each territory with perhaps an inactive or auxiliary midden.[16] A midden may be a regularly used animal toilet area or dunghill, created by many mammals, such as the hyrax, and also serving as a territorial marker.[17]

Some animals, including some species of fishes, collect foodstuffs with heavy shells that are hard to remove. They may establish sites where rocks or similar items are available as natural anvils on which the animals habitually break open the shells. These discarded shells may accumulate around the anvils in sizable middens, sometimes for generations. Commonly such middens are sited where there is a convenient rock that is an unusual resource in the region.

Octopus middens are piles of debris that the octopus piles up to conceal the entrance of its den. Octopus middens are commonly made of rocks, shells, and the bones of prey, although they may contain anything the octopus finds that it can move.

Some more currently widespread used terms include garbage pile, garbage dump, waste pile, waste dump, and waste/garbage disposal site. The material (waste, garbage, refuse, rubbish, etc.) may be placed on a pile/mound on level ground or in a hole/pit dug into the ground which may be subsequently covered over with other material, often for sanitary, aesthetic or land reclamation reasons.

See also


  1. ^ Brinton, DG (1866). "Artificial Shell-deposits of the United States". Reports. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.
  2. ^ Stein, Julie (2000). Exploring Coast Salish Prehistory: The Archaeology of San Juan Island.
  3. ^ "Whaleback Shell Midden". Retrieved 2006-05-11.
  4. ^ John Whitney Hall (1988). The Cambridge History of Japan. Cambridge University Press. p. 59. ISBN 978-0-521-22352-2.
  5. ^ Keiji Imamura. "Collections of Morse from The Shell Mounds of Omori". Digital Museum, University of Tokyo. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  6. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com.
  7. ^ Stein, Julie (1992). Deciphering a Shell Midden. Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-664730-3.
  8. ^ Bailey, G; Chappell, J.B; Cribb, R (1994) "The origin of Anadara shell mounds at Weipa, North Queensland, Australia" Archaeology in Oceania. Volume 29 Number 2. pp. 69–80
  9. ^ Stone, Tim (1995-12-31). "Shell mound formation in coastal northern Australia". Marine Geology. 129 (1–2): 77–100. Bibcode:1995MGeol.129...77S. doi:10.1016/0025-3227(95)00101-8. Archived from the original on 2013-02-08. Retrieved 2014-02-24.
  10. ^ "Otter Mound Preserve". Colliergov.net. Retrieved 2014-02-24.
  11. ^ Pluckhahn, Thomas J.; Thompson, Victor D.; Cherkinsky, Alexander (2015). "The temporality of shell-bearing landscapes at Crystal River, Florida". Journal of Anthropological Anthropology. 37: 19–36. doi:10.1016/j.jaa.2014.10.004.
  12. ^ Lawrence, David R. and Hilda L. Wrightson. "Late Archaic-Early Woodland Period Shell Rings of the Southeastern United States Coast: A Bibliographic Introduction". University of South Carolina. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  13. ^ Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.), 2003.
  14. ^ "Manure/Slurry Storage". Scottish Government. Investment under this storage and handling Option may include:action to minimise the volume of clean water getting into manure or slurry stores, including the installation of covers for slurry storage facilities and middens
  15. ^ "Roofed Midden benefits Lake District Farm". Thanks to a grant from Farming Connect Cumbria the Booths were able to roof the slurry midden, probably trebling its capacity by excluding the rainwater, as well as making necessary repairs to the midden itself to prevent possible run-off to a nearby beck. The midden can now provide up to 10 weeks' storage for the slurry.
  16. ^ dfg.webmaster@alaska.gov. "Alaska Department of Fish & Game: North American Red Squirrel". Adfg.state.ak.us. Retrieved 2014-02-24.
  17. ^ Chase, B.M.; Meadows, M.E.; Scott, L.; Thomas, D.S.G.; Marais, E.; Sealy, J.; Reimer, P.J. (2009). "A record of rapid Holocene climate change preserved in hyrax middens from southwestern Africa". Geology. 37 (8): 703–6. Bibcode:2009Geo....37..703C. doi:10.1130/G30053A.1.

External links

Comer's Midden

Comer's Midden was a 1916 archaeological excavation site near Thule (modern Qaanaaq), north of Mt. Dundas in North Star Bay in northern Greenland. It is the find after which the Thule culture was named. The site was first excavated in 1916 by whaling Captain George Comer, ice master of the Crocker Land Expedition's relief team, and of members of Knud Rasmussen's Second Danish Thule Expedition who were in the area charting the North Greenland coast.

Drèents dialects

Drèents (also Dreins, Dreints, Drents, Drints; Dutch: Drents) is a collective term for the dialects spoken in Drenthe, a province of the Netherlands. The dialects, which are still spoken by half the population of Drenthe, are Dutch Low Saxon variants.

Erik Ziengs

Erik Ziengs (born September 27, 1960 in Hoogersmilde) is a Dutch politician and businessman. As a member of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie) he has been an MP since June 17, 2010. He focuses on matters of small and medium enterprises, tourism, entrepreneurship and reduction of administrative burdens.

Great Marpole Midden

The Great Marpole Midden (also known as the Eburne Site, or Great Fraser Midden, and known in Halkomelem as c̓əsnaʔəm), is an ancient Musqueam village and burial site located in the Marpole neighbourhood of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Jasper Iwema

Jasper Iwema (born 15 November 1989 in Hooghalen, Netherlands) is a Dutch motorcycle rider. He previously competed in the 125cc World Championship, the FIM CEV Moto2 European Championship, the FIM CEV Moto3 Championship, the ADAC Junior Cup and the German IDM 125GP Championship.

Karin Straus

Karin Cornelia Josepha Straus (born 6 April 1971 in Roermond) is a Dutch politician and former human resource management employee and management consultant. As a member of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie) she was an MP between 26 October 2010 and 23 March 2017. She focused on matters of financial arrangements for children (among others child care), social and psychiatric care, and drug rehabilitation.

She was a member of the municipal council of Roermond from 1998 to 2003 as well as VVD fraction leader from 2002 to 2003. Since 11 March 2010 she has been again a council member of this Dutch Limburg municipality. In the meantime she was a member of the municipal council as well as VVD fraction leader of the South Holland municipality of Midden-Delfland from 2004 to 2006.

Straus studied public administration at Radboud University Nijmegen and organizational and management studies at VU University Amsterdam. She also studied at Nyenrode Business University.

La Jolla Complex

The archaeological La Jolla Complex (Shell Midden People, Encinitas Tradition, Millingstone Horizon) represents a prehistoric culture oriented toward coastal resources that prevailed during the middle Holocene period between c. 8000 BC and AD 500 in southwestern California and northwestern Baja California.

Lal-lo and Gattaran Shell Middens

The Lal-lo and Gattaran Shell Middens are one of the most significant archaeological gastronomic finds in Southeast Asia in the 20th century. The site is located along the banks of the Cagayan River in the province of Cagayan, Philippines. The site, as old as 2000 BC, is highly important due to its archaeological impact on the food resources and human activities of the ancient peoples of the Cagayan Valley. It is currently under consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Marshall Site

The Marshall Site (15CE27) is an Early Mississippian culture archaeological site located near Bardwell in Carlisle County, Kentucky, on a bluff spur overlooking the Mississippi River floodplain. The site was occupied from about 900 to about 1300 CE during the James Bayou Phase of the local chronology and was abandoned sometime during the succeeding Dorena Phase. Its inhabitants may have moved to the Turk Site, which is located on the nearest adjacent bluff spur to the south, and which was founded about this time. It is several miles south of the Wickliffe Mounds Site. Marshall is a large village site, with evidence of once having had mounds and earthworks, although it is unclear from what time period these mounds would date. It is one of the few James Bayou Phase sites to be extensively excavated. Because it was abandoned. its archaeological features were undisturbed by later occupations.In 1985, an archaeological team from the University of Illinois conducted excavations at Marshall, with some work being performed by the university's summer field school. Four locations were excavated: spots on the eastern and western sides of the central knoll, another on a spur to the north, and a fourth at the bluff edge to the southwest of the center. On the eastern side of the knoll, a substantial midden was investigated and found to possess good stratigraphy; a piece of charcoal from the midden was radiocarbon dated to c. 1027 CE. On the western side of the knoll, excavations examined the remains of a house under a midden, finding shell-tempered pottery, while the excavation north of the knoll revealed the presence of numerous linear features interpreted as being the remains of several houses that were constructed on the site in sequence. Little was found in the excavation site to the southwest of the knoll; the excavators tested a horseshoe-shaped earthwork but were able to establish virtually nothing aside from a conclusive determination that it was the site's southwestern corner.


Midden-Delfland (pronunciation ) is a municipality (gemeente) in the Westland region in the province of South Holland in the Netherlands. It had a population of 19,244 in 2017, and covers an area of 49.38 km2 (19.07 sq mi) of which 2.03 km2 (0.78 sq mi) is water.

It was formed on January 1, 2004, through the merger of the former municipalities:

Maasland (population: 6,844), covered an area of 24.42 km2 (9.43 sq mi) of which 0.6 km2 (0.23 sq mi) water.

Schipluiden (population: 11,173), covered an area of 30.00 km2 (11.58 sq mi) of which 0.39 km2 (0.15 sq mi) water.The municipality comprises the population centres Hodenpijl, Den Hoorn, Gaag, Maasland, Negenhuizen, Schipluiden, 't Woudt, Zouteveen, and Zweth.

Dutch topographic map of the municipality of Midden-Delfland, June 2015

The green area that comprises the municipality of Midden-Delfland was named Midden-Delfland before 2004, and it referred to the green area surrounded by cities (such as The Hague and Rotterdam) and the horticulture area of Westland. The supporters of a continuous green area were lucky that the municipality of Midden-Delfland became a reality: the cities of Delft, Vlaardingen and Schiedam wanted to build new houses here, and the Westland gardeners also wanted to expand. Now, Midden-Delfland is designated as a recreation area for people from the surrounding cities.


Midden-Drenthe (pronunciation ) is a municipality in the northeastern Netherlands. The municipality was created in 1998, in a merger of the former municipalities of Beilen, Smilde, and Westerbork. Between 1998 and 2000, the name of the municipality was Middenveld.

New Middle Party

The New Middle Party (in Dutch: Nieuwe Midden Partij, NMP) is a Dutch small business-interest political party. The NMP is a marginal party and was only successful during the 1971 elections.

Pack rat

A pack rat or packrat, also called a woodrat, can be any of the species in the rodent genus Neotoma. Pack rats have a rat-like appearance with long tails, large ears and large black eyes. Compared to deer mice, harvest mice and grasshopper mice, pack rats are noticeably larger and are usually somewhat larger than cotton rats.

Privy midden

The privy midden (also midden closet) was a toilet system that consisted of a privy (outhouse) associated with a midden (or middenstead, ie a dump for waste). They were widely used in rapidly expanding industrial cities such as Manchester in England, but were difficult to empty and clean. A typical comment was that they were of "most objectionable construction" and "usually wet and very foul". They were replaced eventually by pail closets and flush toilets. Similar systems still exist in some developing countries, but the term "privy midden" is now an archaism.

Ronald Vuijk

Ronald Vuijk (born 22 October 1965 in The Hague) is a Dutch politician. As a member of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie) he was an MP between 8 November 2012 and 23 March 2017. Previously he was a municipal councillor of Delft from 2002 to 2005 and also from 2010 to 2011. In the meantime he was an alderman of this municipality. From 2011 to 2012, he was an alderman of the municipality of Midden-Delfland.

Ronde van Midden-Nederland

The Ronde van Midden-Nederland is a road bicycle race held annually in Netherlands. It was organized as a 1.2 event on the UCI Europe Tour from 2005 to 2013, and as a 2.2 since 2015.

Tchefuncte Site

The Tchefuncte Site (16ST1) is an archaeological site that is a type site for the prehistoric Tchefuncte culture period. The name is pronounced Che-funk'tuh. It is located in the southeast section of Fontainebleau State Park near Mandeville, St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.

The site was inhabited from 500 BCE to 1 CE during the Tchula period. Major excavations were directed by Clarence Johnson in 1938 and Edwin Doran in 1941.

Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope

The Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (WSRT) is an aperture synthesis interferometer near World War II Nazi detention and transit camp Westerbork, north of the village of Westerbork, Midden-Drenthe, in the northeastern Netherlands.

Whaleback Shell Midden

Whaleback Shell Midden is a shell midden, or dump, consisting primarily of oyster shells located on the east side of the Damariscotta River in Maine, United States. It is preserved as a Maine state historic site and was included as part of the Damariscotta Oyster Shell Heaps listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969. Other shell middens are located on the estuary in both Damariscotta and Newcastle. The middens in this area were formed over about 1,000 years between 200 BC to AD 1000.

The midden originally had three main layers of shells. In the bottom two layers, individual shells were generally 5–8 inches (10–20 cm) long. These two layers are separated by a layer of soil, and the middle layer is mixed with animal bones. The top layer contains smaller shells. Artifacts unearthed lead scientists to believe that successive tribes of prehistoric people used the area. The top layer was deposited by members of the Abenaki tribes that fished in the area in the summer.Originally, the Whaleback midden was more than thirty feet deep, more than 1,650 feet in length, and a width varying from 1,320 to 1,650 feet. It got its name from its shape. Only a small portion of this midden remains today as much of it was processed into chicken feed from 1886 to 1891 by the Massachusetts-based Damariscotta Shell and Fertilizer company. Because of this, the Glidden midden, located across the river in Newcastle, is now the largest in Maine and the largest on the U.S. east coast north of Georgia.

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