Stories that old oyster shells tell – part 8

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The following is the eighth & final instalment of an 8 part summary of the work I have been undertaking on British Native or European Flat Oyster shell specimens from archaeological and present day contexts. You can see previous posts about the shells of  Ostrea edulis Linnaeus by clicking here for the Oyster Variations category.

Two thousand years of eating oysters in the UK:

an archaeological perspective

Part 8


Most of the research described in this article has been undertaken in a part-time capacity and with minimal funding. The opportunity now arises to consider how to carry this archaeomalacological work forward. The elementary nature of the preliminary analyses reflects an original requirement to devise methods that were easy to learn and replicate on a wider scale by on-site non-specialists as much as the constraints imposed by limitations of time, funding and technical expertise. Although a great deal of information has been gathered so far, the potential of this has not yet been fully realised. From today’s perspective, the gaps in the data, shortcomings of the analyses, and possible new directions for enquiry become evident.

One of the first steps might be to construct an Access database of all the information available. Then acquire more sample data to make the database more representative. Enlisting the collaboration of a statistician to help rework the data would be desirable. And it would be advantageous to consider the more sophisticated techniques available if funding can be found. These techniques might include Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry to see if the chemical constituents of shells from different locations varied. An attempt could be made to extract DNA from the surviving organic components. Extraction and identification of any pigments encapsulated in the crystals might shed light on changing diet of the oysters.

After working on oysters for over thirty years now, I remain as passionate about the subject as ever, fascinated by their variability and what this might mean for the interpretation of archaeological material and our understanding of both human exploitation of this marine resource and of our changing natural environment.



Bell, A. (1921) British oysters past and present. Essex Naturalist (Stratford). 19, 183-221 and 300-2.

Horsey, I.P. and Winder, J.M. (1991) Late Saxon and Conquest period oyster middens at Poole, Dorset.  In Waterfront Archaeology, Proceedings of the third International conference, Bristol, 1988, (eds G.L. Good, R.H. Jones and M.W. Ponsford), 102-104.  CBA Research Report No. 74.

Winder, J.M. (1980) The Marine Mollusca.  In Excavation at Melbourne Street, Southampton, 1971-76 (ed. P. Holdsworth), 121-127.  Southampton Archaeological Research Committee, Report 1, CBA Report 33.

Winder, J.M. (1987)  A report on the marine molluscs from the excavations at 49-53 Moorgate and 72-73 Coleman Street,  Unpublished report for the Department of Urban Archaeology, Museum of London.

Winder, J.M. (1991) Marine Mollusca.  In Redeemed from the Heath – the archaeology of the Wytch Farm Oilfield (1987-90), (eds P.W. Cox and C.M. Hearne), 212-216.  Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Monograph Series No. 9 for BP Exploration and its partners in the Wytch Farm Development.

Winder, J.M. (1992) The Oysters.  In Excavations in Poole 1973-83, (ed. I.P. Horsey), 194-200.  Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Monograph Series No. 10.

Winder, J.M. (1993) A study of the variation in oyster shells from archaeological sites and a discussion of oyster exploitation.  PhD Thesis, University of Southampton, Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Arts.

Winder J.M. (1997) Oyster and other marine molluscs, in Excavations at Hamwic, Volume 2: excavations at Six Dials edited P. Andrews, Council for British Archaeology Research Report No. 109, 247.

Winder, J. M. (2000) Oysters and other marine shells from Elms Farm, Heybridge, Essex, Report for Essex County Council Field Archaeology Unit.

Winder J. M. (2002) Oysters and other marine mollusc shells from Great Wakering, Essex, Report for Essex County Council Field Archaeology Unit.


N.B. Please leave a comment or e-mail me directly on if you would like to ask any questions or to have a free copy of the complete article sent to you as a pdf file. This article is just a very brief summary of my archaeological oyster research. 


 © Jessica Winder and Jessica’s Nature Blog, 2009. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material, including both text and photographs, without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jessica Winder and Jessica’s Nature Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 Photographs in this blog are copyright property of Jessica Winder with all rights reserved

3 Replies to “Stories that old oyster shells tell – part 8”

  1. A copy is on its way to you, Jan. It is just a very brief summary really and skims the surface of the subject that has kept me busy for most of my adult life. I thought I would make some of my oyster work more easily available on-line as there seems to be quite a bit of interest in the subject at the moment.


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