Annual Growth Patterns and Interspecimen Variability in Mg/Ca Records of Archaeological Ostrea edulis (European Oyster) from the Late Mesolithic Site of Conors Island


Annual growth patterns in marine mollusc shells are valuable indicators of the condition of marine ecology through time. In archaeological contexts, the mollusc’s time of death (i.e. the last season of growth) is an indicator of human exploitation patterns throughout the year, enabling the reconstruction of when and how often gathering occurred as well as when sites were occupied. Both pieces of information, growth rate and season of death, are vital for understanding exploitation pressure(s) in the past, and building baselines for modern environmental policies that secure sustainable marine resources. Previously, these parameters have been determined by incremental growth-line or isotopic analyses, which are time consuming and often expensive techniques, thus restricting sample size and the overall robustness of palaeoecological interpretations. Here, we apply Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) to produce elemental maps (Mg/Ca) with the potential to trace and display growth patterns quickly, and at a reduced cost. We further compare the elemental maps with the results obtained from incremental growth-line analysis to provide a structural context for the geochemical data, and demonstrate the utility of an integrated methodological approach. Our pilot study was undertaken on 12 European oysters (Ostrea edulis, Linnaeus, 1758) from the Late Mesolithic shell midden at Conors Island, Co. Sligo in the Republic of Ireland. Our LIBS analysis enabled us to accurately and quickly determine repeating growth patterns, which were often in agreement with the annual growth increments visible through the microscopic analysis. Based on this comparative dataset, including structural and geochemical patterns, the Late Mesolithic site of Conors Island had been occupied throughout the year. Moreover, our analyses highlight the applicability of LIBS to determine prehistoric seasonality practices as well as biological age and growth at an improved rate and reduced cost than was previously achievable.

Niklas Hausmann
Niklas Hausmann
Emmy Noether Group Leader