The well-known and widespread replacement of oysters (abundant during the Mesolithic period) by cockles and mussels in many Danish Stone Age shell middens ca. 5900 cal yrs BP coincides with the transition to agriculture in southern Scandinavia. This human resource shift is commonly believed to reflect changing resource availability, driven by environmental and/or climatic change at the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition rather than cultural choice. While several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the “Mesolithic-Neolithic oyster decline”, an explanation based on a sudden freshening of the inner Danish waters has received most attention. Here, for the first time, we test and refute this long-standing hypothesis that declining salinity explains the marked reduction in oysters identified within numerous shell middens across coastal Denmark at the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition using quantitative and qualitative salinity inference from several, independent proxies (diatoms, molluscs and foraminifera) from multiple Danish fjord sites. Alternatively, we attribute the oyster decline to other environmental causes (particularly changing sedimentation), ultimately driven by external climatic forcing. Critical application of such high-quality environmental archives can reinvigorate archaeological debates and can aid in understanding and managing environmental change in increasingly impacted coastal regions.
- Mesolithic-Neolithic transition
- Shell midden
- Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate