These pictures show natural accumulations of common British seashells on the strandline at Rhossili, Gower, South Wales. They are photographed as found – in situ. The images have a usefulness and significance despite the fact that that they are neither technically brilliant photographs nor what you might call picture postcard shots. They probably wouldn’t win any prizes for beauty or be worthy of framing on the wall.
The pictures show nature as it really is – without re-arrangement, clever angles, or just the right lighting. Their function is to inform rather than visually please. They are a way of recording something both situational and ephemeral, something that may only last a few hours until the next tide, something that may not occur in the same way again for months, if ever. From these jumbled up assortments of shells it is possible, for example, to compile a species list of marine molluscs that until recently lived in the area, not just the shore on which they were deposited, but including a geographically wider variety of habitat substrates, water depths, and degrees of exposure, that have been scoured by the waves, currents and tides.
In the instance of the pictures posted here, the random selections of shells do not represent death assemblages (mass mortalities) which often occur on this and other beaches. Actually, many of the shells, particularly the more robust ones like oysters and limpets, may be decades or even centuries old; the more fragile shells (like those of Banded Wedge Shells) readily break up in a very short time. Thicker, older shells have become incorporated with more delicate shells, from recently dead organisms, all the shells undergoing a cycle of burial and release from the sediments, a process which over time leads to more and more breakages, infestation damage, and burial staining, and general abrasion that leads to the eventual destruction of the shells and incorporation into the finer beach sediments.
This kind of temporary strandline deposit of shells and shell fragments could provide insights into the origins and processes involved in the formation of fossil shell assemblages. It could potentially provide clues to past and changing environments. It might allow understanding and interpretation of archaeological deposits of shells. It is not possible to know every way in which the information might turn out to be useful. So I have recorded it for posterity and future science investigations – just in case.
COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2013
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