Shells and humans: molluscs and other coastal resources from the earliest human occupations at the Mesolithic shell midden of El Mazo (Asturias, Northern Spain)
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AuthorGarcía Escárzaga, Asier; Gutiérrez Zugasti, Fernando Igor; González Morales, Manuel Ramón; Cobo García, Adolfo
Human populations exploited coastal areas with intensity during the Mesolithic in Atlantic Europe, resulting in the accumulation of large shell middens. Northern Spain is one of the most prolific regions, and especially the so-called Asturian area. Large accumulations of shellfish led some scholars to propose the existence of intensification in the exploitation of coastal resources in the region during the Mesolithic. In this paper, shell remains (molluscs, crustaceans and echinoderms) from stratigraphic units 114 and 115 (dated to the early Mesolithic c. 9 kys cal BP) at El Mazo cave (Asturias, northern Spain) were studied in order to establish resource exploitation patterns and environmental conditions. Species representation showed that limpets, top shells and sea urchins were preferentially exploited. One-millimetre mesh screens were crucial in establishing an accurate minimum number of individuals for sea urchins and to determine their importance in exploitation patterns. Environmental conditions deduced from shell assemblages indicated that temperate conditions prevailed at the time of the occupation and the morphology of the coastline was similar to today (rocky exposed shores). Information recovered relating to species representation, collection areas and shell biometry reflected some evidence of intensification (reduced shell size, collection in lower areas of exposed shores, no size selection in some units and species) in the exploitation of coastal resources through time. However, the results suggested the existence of changes in collection strategies and resource management, and periods of intense shell collection may have alternated with times of shell stock recovery throughout the Mesolithic.