Shell we cook it? An experimental approach to the microarchaeological record of shellfish roasting

Vera Aldeias, Shira Gur-Arieh, Raquel Maria, Patricia Monteiro, Pedro Cura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper, we investigate the microarchaeological traces and archaeological visibility of shellfish cooking activities through a series of experimental procedures with direct roasting using wood-fueled fires and controlled heating in a muffle furnace. An interdisciplinary geoarchaeological approach, combining micromorphology, FTIR (in transmission and ATR collection modes), TGA and XRD, was used to establish a baseline on the mineralogical transformation of heated shells from aragonite to calcite and diagnostic sedimentary traces produced by roasting fire features. Our experimental design focused on three main types of roasting procedures: the construction of shallow depressions with heated rocks (pebble cuvette experiments), placing shellfish on top of hot embers and ashes (fire below experiment), and by kindling short-lived fires on top of shellfish (fire above experiments). Our results suggest that similar shellfish roasting procedures will largely create microstratigraphic signatures of anthropogenically reworked combusted material spatially “disconnected” from the actual combustion locus. The construction of shallow earth ovens might entail an increased archaeological visibility, and some diagnostic signatures of in situ hearths can be obtained by fire below roasting activities. We also show that macroscopic visual modifications and mineralogical characterization of discarded shellfish might be indicative of specific cooking activities versus secondary burning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-407
Number of pages19
JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - 7 Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the excavation team of Cabeço da Amoreira, the Museu de Arte Pré-histórica de Mação, and the Cura family for their help with performing the experiments present here. We are grateful to Dr. Filipe Natalio (Martin Luther University Halle Wittenberg, Halle, Germany) for TGA/DSC and XRD measurements and helpful discussion. We appreciate the comments and reviews suggested by Ximena Villagran and an anonymous reviewer to an earlier version of this paper. This research was supported by the Max Planck Society. Open Access funding provided by Max Planck Society.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, The Author(s).


  • Cooking
  • Experimental archaeology
  • FTIR
  • Fire
  • Shellfish roasting
  • Soil Micromorphology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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