Native American Shell Middens

Furball1

Explorer
Dec 11, 2005
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Florida
This is a topic which fascinates me and I hope it stimulates some intense discussion here. I recall seeing middens, or shell mounds, on many canoe trips in the pinebarrens. My research of the topic has been cursory. But, I recall reading the Native peoples would congregate at certain times of the year to enjoy the abundant shellfish available and readily and easily harvested. They would leave the shell castings in piles, and over the years these mounds would get quite large. Now, here in Florida, the Timicuan peoples did the same thing over thousands of years, leaving behind mounds that covered acres and attaining heights of 100 feet! One such mound is still here, called Turtle Mound, in Canaveral National Seashore. It is 75 feet high, and it has been estimated it was 100 feet high at one time. The middens also served as burial mounds. Discarded pottery has been found, carvings and totems, adornments, as well as primitive toys, tools, and plant/animal debris. Archeological excavations have revealed much about the lives of the Timicuans, who are now extinct, unfortunately. In modern times many of the mounds were used by the railroads and the local towns and villages for road fill and have been lost forever. It is an amazing thing to see, especially if you wade in the intracostal side, and you get a great visual of the shear immensity and quantity of the shells. Not just that, you can see HUGE clamshells of all types, oystershells, and conch shells. The immensity of the available food in the estuaries is almost too hard to imagine. But, imagine we must, as there is no written record other than the French explorer Rene de Laudonniere who drew pictures of the Timicuans in the 1500's (1564) and gave a written account of their culture. Well, that is quite long-winded, but it leads to a very important question: Has there been any serious archeological research concerning the shell middens found in the pinebarrens?
 

foofoo

Explorer
Sep 14, 2003
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the fox hound trainers use to get the seafood shell scraps from the restaurants and leave piles all over the pines to bait in the fox to an area so the dogs could be run. they would do this mostly at night. i remember this was big in the 60-s and 70-s. dont see them running packs of fox hounds much any more. i bet these were the shell piles you saw.
 
Apr 6, 2004
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Good subject, Furball. I too am curious as to where you found shell mounds along the rivers of NJ. The shell mound in Tuckerton is, from what I gather, reputed to be one of the biggest on the east coast. It was long used by sailors as a navigation marker. After being pillaged by lime burners during the iron and glass eras, the mound is still quite large, although different people have assigned different dimensions to it. The mound is of great antiquity. It is said that the Lenape did not claim the mound as their own work, but credited it instead to an unknown people that called this location home many ages before the Lenape arrived. From what I have gathered, they are likely glorified trash piles mainly comprised of oyster and clam shells (many of which dwarf modern shells), broken pottery, and charcoal. Curiously, there are human remains here and there. Considering that there is an Indian graveyard in the immediate vicinity, and seeing that the shells would be condusive to rapid decay, it may be that the bones of unknown or unloved people were dumped along with the kitchen scraps.

Take a look at this

This was written about 100 years ago by archaeologist Francis Jordan. He correctly identifies the mound as an aboriginal refuse pile, although, IMHO, he incorrectly reasons that sea levels were higher then and that the sea has since been retreating, exposing the heap that was once surrounded by water. I think that it is much more likely that the opposite is true and that marshland has since encroached on the area.

Here's another link to look at when you get the time: Shell Mounds in NJ
 
Apr 6, 2004
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BobNJ1979 said:
i've seen random shells in the pine barrens before.. it always confused me..
They still confuse me most of the time, too. Sometimes there is evidence in the area that would indicate the use of these shells, whether as flux, fill, food, fertilizer, etc. Most of the time, it seems, they are just there for no apparent reason. I could drive you crazy trying to figure them out.
 

bobpbx

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Oct 25, 2002
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the fox hound trainers use to get the seafood shell scraps from the restaurants and leave piles all over the pines to bait in the fox to an area so the dogs could be run. they would do this mostly at night. i remember this was big in the 60-s and 70-s. dont see them running packs of fox hounds much any more. i bet these were the shell piles you saw.
That solves a mystery for me. I found a small pile in Lebanon State Forest in the early 70's. It was about 10-15 feet from the Batona Trail. They were dried and seemed like they had been there a long time, but my mind told me that they could not have been there since the Lenape.
 

Furball1

Explorer
Dec 11, 2005
378
1
18
Florida
Middens

I'm curious Furball, where are the shell middens you have seen here in the pines? I'd love to check them out sometime.
I recall shell piles on small islands in the Batsto, Wading, and Mullica Rivers. Though not as large as the ones mentioned above, they do indicate the presence of native peoples. I believe there has been archeological documentation of 1000 such sites in and around the pinelands. That is one article I would like to read. If anyone knows where this resouce can be found, I would love to get hold of it.
 
Apr 6, 2004
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I was wrong. No human remains have been found in the mound itself. It is claimed that one of the skeletons in the nearby graves was of a man over 7 ft. tall, though this might be a "tall" tale.
 

oji

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Jan 25, 2008
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I was wrong. No human remains have been found in the mound itself. It is claimed that one of the skeletons in the nearby graves was of a man over 7 ft. tall, though this might be a "tall" tale.
There was a story in The Sandpaper from L.B.I. about the 7 ft. skeletons found in the Tuckerton area and after a lot of research they turned out to be skeletons from buried Vikings. Apparently the Vikings were a very tall people.
 

tugwake

Scout
Sep 15, 2008
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Tall People

There was a story in The Sandpaper from L.B.I. about the 7 ft. skeletons found in the Tuckerton area and after a lot of research they turned out to be skeletons from buried Vikings. Apparently the Vikings were a very tall people.
I was at the WaWa the other day in Tuckerton and I saw an extremely tall man wandering around in the store. After I purchased a couple of things and left the store, I saw a whole bunch of tall people in the parking lot. I asked my husband if he noticed anything strange and he confirmed I didn't need glasses. So, apparently the Vikings aren't the only people that were tall in Tuckerton! Apparently, it was a family gathering of some nice looking and nice sized people from there.

Very nice little town, I might add. The people around here are lovely.
 

GermanG

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Apr 2, 2005
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Little Egg Harbor
The tale of the Tuckerton "giants" has been around for a long time, however I believe it has been discounted. The original account was from the farmer who unearthed the skeletons and tied or wired the bones back together and hung them from a beam in his barn. The exaggeration in the height of the skeletons is believed to be a result of this less than scientific handling and measurement of the remains.
 

manumuskin

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Jul 20, 2003
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I've read much on the mound builders and a quick google search under mound builders giants will return many results of very large skeletons being unearthed in the mounds in the 1800's early 1900's.the smithsonian apparently lost or destroyed many remains from these mounds from back then.makes you wonder why you hear about excavations from egypt and peru but never anything about mounds in our own country.Are they hiding something?I've been to the mounds in mississippi and would love to go to cahokia.I can't believe they were made by primitive savages.maybe savages but definitely not primitive.Look at the human sacrifices of the aztecs.savage yes but the pyramids weren't made by idiots.
Al
 
I've read much on the mound builders and a quick google search under mound builders giants will return many results of very large skeletons being unearthed in the mounds in the 1800's early 1900's.the smithsonian apparently lost or destroyed many remains from these mounds from back then.makes you wonder why you hear about excavations from egypt and peru but never anything about mounds in our own country.Are they hiding something?I've been to the mounds in mississippi and would love to go to cahokia.I can't believe they were made by primitive savages.maybe savages but definitely not primitive.Look at the human sacrifices of the aztecs.savage yes but the pyramids weren't made by idiots.
Al
Al:

Be careful of your terminology here. You are extolling the virtues of well developed—perhaps even advanced—civilizations in your posting above, yet you are referring to these people as “savages.” The last time I checked my dictionary, a savage is defined as “an uncivilized human being.” The works that these societal-based human community groups accomplished indicate anything but being “savages.”

Best regards,
Jerseyman
 

MarkBNJ

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Jun 17, 2007
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I think 'savage' is a term that indicates the extent to which the European mind preferred organized violence to tribal mayhem. 'Civilized' is a trickier one, in my view. If a component of it is the gaining of technological control over the physical environment, leading to a higher individual quality of life, then I think it's a useful measure of where civilizations are, or the levels past ones ascended to.

Then again, there are some very advanced civilizations that yet engage in behavior that I think of as savage. Of course in the Western culture from which I come chewing soldiers up on the field of battle is not as savage as, say, burning your sister because she dated someone from the wrong family.

On a different note: why would anyone feel compelled to hide the fact that we had a race of giants here once, if in fact we had a race of giants here once? And aren't there other places where the local population tends to be very tall, or excessively short, or wide, or long-headed? If you take the standard 25-50% off for exageration/error the whole thing doesn't strike me as that extraordinary.
 

diggersw

Scout
Dec 4, 2003
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I was wrong. No human remains have been found in the mound itself. It is claimed that one of the skeletons in the nearby graves was of a man over 7 ft. tall, though this might be a "tall" tale.
The story that I had heard about the seven-foot tall Native American skeletons involved a mass confusion of faunal remains. The way that I had heard it was that it was not uncommon for prehistoric burials to be commingled with deer and canine burials, and that the reason for such long bones was that the legs were actually derived from deer. However, it would be interesting to see if anyone can find a report of the actual faunal analysis.

On another note, I have to add my two cents to this thread and say that the locations of known shell mounds, and prehistoric archaeological sites should not be published. Due to the inherent sensitivity of such sites, the information is restricted to researchers only, and any known archaeological sites should be recorded with the New Jersey State Museum Bureau of Ethnology and Archaeology. New Jersey's prehistoric sites are always endangered due to development, looting, and vandalism and should be preserved as much and as best as possible.

As I said, this is just my two cents. (Though, I believe that Jerseyman would agree!)

Thanks!

Scott
 
The story that I had heard about the seven-foot tall Native American skeletons involved a mass confusion of faunal remains. The way that I had heard it was that it was not uncommon for prehistoric burials to be commingled with deer and canine burials, and that the reason for such long bones was that the legs were actually derived from deer. However, it would be interesting to see if anyone can find a report of the actual faunal analysis.

On another note, I have to add my two cents to this thread and say that the locations of known shell mounds, and prehistoric archaeological sites should not be published. Due to the inherent sensitivity of such sites, the information is restricted to researchers only, and any known archaeological sites should be recorded with the New Jersey State Museum Bureau of Ethnology and Archaeology. New Jersey's prehistoric sites are always endangered due to development, looting, and vandalism and should be preserved as much and as best as possible.

As I said, this is just my two cents. (Though, I believe that Jerseyman would agree!)

Thanks!

Scott
Scott:

Good to see you posting on the forums again and I absolutely concur with your viewpoint on archaeological sites. To augment what you wrote above, only professionals working in the Cultural Resource field can access site-specific information for both historic and prehistoric archaeological locations. All too often shell middens contain vital material culture that yield important information for those scholars making a scientific study of prehistoric life.

Best regards,
Jerseyman
 

tom m

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Jan 9, 2006
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