There are over 100,000 living species of mollusc, many of which have been important to humans. The use of the phylum Mollusca has been documented in archaeological sites as early as the Middle Palaeolithic. It has long been recognised that mollusc shells are an important zooarchaeological tool for interpreting various aspects of material culture, palaeoeconomy and the environment. Shells originating in marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments are found in archaeological sites where they represent subsistence resources and raw materials for the manufacture of a diverse group of artefacts. Cross-culturally, molluscs were collected as or made into artefacts, exchange items, grave goods, etc. with various symbolic meanings attached to them. Mollusc exploitation is also manifested in the use of certain species for the production of dye and construction materials. Further, mollusc shells are often used to reconstruct the season of site occupation, as well as interpreting palaeoclimates, using isotopic and other methods.
The mission of the ICAZ Archaeomalacology Working Group is the liberal exchange of data and information about the phylum Mollusca in the zooarchaeological record, and to contribute to the methods and theory relevant to the analysis of such remains. In so doing, we seek to encourage the publication of data and information concerning the use of this very important group of animals commonly found in archaeological sites.
Background to the AMWG logo
by Kat Szabó
The AMWG logo was originally developed in 2012 by Claire Perrette for the 3rd Independent AMWG meeting in Cairns, Queensland Australia. The images drawn together derived from aspects of the material culture of the Torres Strait Islands – the island chain that spans the sea gap between Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea.
The representation of the chiton was taken from a motif on a locally‐produced bamboo smoking pipe. Smoking pipes were often heavily engraved, with sea creatures being the most common of representational images that depict the range of creatures that patterned the lives of Torres Strait Islanders.
The ‘A’ and ‘M’ characters are copies of geometric motifs used in body scarification. Body scarification was practised extensively on the Torres Strait Islands for magical or mourning purposes, or simply for decoration. The design was incised into the skin with a sharp piece of quartz, shell or bamboo, a specific plant juice was applied to prevent healing, and wet clay was packed into the wound to promote scarring.
The ‘W’ character is the standard representation of a frigate bird (Fregata spp.) seen across Western Melanesia. The frigate bird is an ocean wanderer and often associated with inter-island sailing and voyaging. The frigate bird is also often considered a visitor to and from the spirit world and as such is frequently featured in death and mourning traditions. This simple presentation of a frigate bird in flight can be seen across coastal and insular Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands as well as the Torres Strait Islands. This particular example was carved into washstrake at the bow of a Torres Strait Island canoe. Washstrakes are plank extensions to the side of a dugout vessel to help prevent water coming over the gunwhale (top edge of the side of the boat).
The ‘G’ character is taken from a carving seen on the washstrake at the bow of a canoe. The washstrakes of Torres Strait Island canoes were the primary zone for ornamentation, and in addition to carving and painting in red, black, blue and white pigments, bunches of sago palm fronds and large, white Ovula ovum shells were often attached.
All of the images used in the AMWG logo were taken from Wilson, Lindsay (1988) Thathilgaw Emeret Lu: A handbook of traditional Torres Strait Islands Material Culture. Department of Education, Queensland.
The AMWG Webmasters
The original AMWG website (archaeomalacology.com) was designed, and managed for 16 years, by Kat Szabó. Kat specialised in the analysis of molluscan shell from archaeological sites; whether it be the remains of ancient meals, artefacts made from shell, or shells from the natural environment that give insights into ancient landscape. The role of webmaster was taken over by Cindy Nelson-Viljoen in January 2019. Cindy specialised in Zooarchaeology and Archaeomalacology, and is working as Post Excavation Supervisor for Brython Archaeology. The new website and updated design were heavily influenced by the original site, and much of the original content remained. In November 2019 the role of AMWG content editor was handed over to Matthew Law, senior lecturer in Environmental Change and Sustainability at Bath Spa University, and environmental archaeologist for L – P.