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Marvelous Malacology

Malacology is the study of mollusks. Archeaomalacology is the study of what remains of the mollusk, the shell, in the archaeological record. Studying shells found in archaeological sites can help to answer questions like; What was the ancient environment like? What did ancient people eat?

Mollusks make up one of the largest groups of invertebrates on the planet. Invertebrates are animals without backbones. Many invertebrates have an exoskeleton that acts as a shield from predators and gives their bodies structure and support. Many mollusks produce exoskeletons which are left behind as shells when the animal dies. Some shells are deposited through natural processes, like the crashing waves of a beach. Others are transported by humans, because of their beauty, or more often as a food source.

Archaeomalacologists study the shells that are believed to be left behind by ancient people. We know that a shell was probably used by a human if it was transported away from its original location and it found in association with artifacts or other evidence of human occupation, such as charcoal from a fire.

Many shells have been found in the KTC site throughout the excavation. Many of these shells were probably utilized by humans as sources of food. What is interesting about the KTC site are the types of shells found during excavation, how the frequency of each type changes and what those changes might tell us about the ancient environments.

The two main types of shells we find are gastropods and bivalves. Bivalves are mollusks that live between two tightly hinged shells. Gastropods are mollusks that live in a single shell, into which they can coil tightly for added protection. For this reason, gastropod shells are usually easy to identify because of the characteristic coiling of the shell. During the first part of the excavation, the majority of shells found were gastropods. The most common type found comes from a family commonly known as horn snails. These mollusks typically reside in brackish water, or water that is between salty and fresh. They are most typically found in mangrove environments. As the excavation continues, we are starting to see a shift from gastropods to bivalve mollusks. Unlike gastropods, the majority of bivalves like in saltier environments.

The change in the type of shells found indicates a change in the diets of the ancient inhabitance of KTC. The reason for this was most likely an environmental shift which is reflected in the abundance of each type of shell at different time periods. As the excavation progresses, a clearer view of the dietary trends will appear and give more clues about the ancient people that inhabited KTC and the environment in which they lived.

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