Long-distance trade and consumption of mollusks in the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods in the Negev Desert

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Recent archaeological excavations in the Negev desert in the southern Levant have yielded a variety of mollusk shells originating from the Mediterranean Sea, the Nile River, and the Red Sea, uncovered in the trash mounds and settlements of Byzantine and Early Islamic sites. These remains indicate that aquatic products were among the merchandised comestibles transported across long distances. Three shellfish taxa manifest such transportation: (1) the small clam, Donax trunculus, commonly found in the exposed sandy wash zones of the Eastern Mediterranean coast; (2) the large freshwater mussel, Chambardia rubens, whose habitat stretches from the Nile River to western Africa; and (3) the large conch, Lambis truncata, commonly found in the shallow waters of the Red Sea. The breakage and abrasion patterns of the shell fragments of these three species suggest that they were collected as live specimens and not as empty shells washed ashore. The other taxa, however, were mostly collected as empty shells to be used, for example, as ornaments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102927
Pages (from-to)1-15
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program (648427) and the Israel Science Foundation (340-14). This research was also conducted with the support of the Leverhulme fund, UK. The research was conducted under licenses from the Israel Antiquities Authority (Elusa: G-69/2014, G-10/2015, G-6/2017; Shivta: G-87/2015, G-4/2016; Nessana: G-4/2017, G-83/2019). We also thank the excavation and laboratory teams of the Negev Byzantine Bio-archaeology Project and two anonymous referees for their constructive comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021


  • Archaeo-malacology
  • Byzantine
  • Early Islamic period
  • Mollusks taphonomy
  • Negev Desert
  • Shellfish consumption
  • Trade connections

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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