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The role of shellfish in human subsistence during the Mesolithic of Atlantic Europe: an approach from meat yield estimations


García-Escárzaga,  Asier
Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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García-Escárzaga, A., & Gutiérrez-Zugasti, I. (2020). The role of shellfish in human subsistence during the Mesolithic of Atlantic Europe: an approach from meat yield estimations. Quaternary International, j.quaint.2020.03.003. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2020.03.003.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0005-E6AD-5
In spite of the increased number of investigations of the Mesolithic period in Atlantic Europe, including studies that have focused on reconstructing human diets, the information about the role of shellfish in human subsistence strategies is still very limited. In this study, an experimental programme to collect modern molluscs was carried out in northern Iberia over a three-year period in order to establish the meat yield of the four main species recovered from archaeological sites in this coastal area. The resulting dataset enabled accurate estimates of the meat yield from the shell remains recovered in the shell midden deposits of El Mazo cave (Asturias, N Spain). Results show that the mollusc meat yield contributed at least 20% of the meat yield obtained from ungulates. This value is notably higher than in previous studies, showing that molluscs had a more important role in human subsistence strategies than previously recognised. The mollusc meat contribution relative to ungulates would be even higher if estimates were based on the number of identified bone remains, instead of the minimum number of individuals, which is a more subjective method and tends to overestimate the amount of mammal meat consumed by human populations. In any case, and independently of the methodology applied, our data show a greater dietary importance of shellfish during the Mesolithic than previously published for Atlantic Europe.