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Midden

From Academic Kids

A midden, or kitchen midden, is a dump for domestic waste. The word is of Scandinavian via Middle English derivation but is used by archaeologists worldwide to describe any kind of feature containing waste products relating to day-to-day human life. They may be convenient, single-use tips created by nomadic groups or long-term, designated dumps used by several generations. In the latter case, a midden's stratigraphy can become apparent.

Animal bone, faeces, shell, rotten food, vermin, broken pottery and other artefacts and ecofacts can all find their way into middens and they therefore provide a useful resource for archaeologists who wish to study the diet and habits of past societies. Middens with damp, anaerobic conditions can preserve even delicate environmental remains and can be analysed for information regarding climate and seasonal use

The East Chisenbury midden is a famous example of a large dump, dating to the 1st millennium BC. Sited on Salisbury Plain in the United Kingdom, the midden mound contains discrete layers upon layers of flint, charcoal, bones, pottery and excrement. It survives to a height of 2.5m and measures 140m in width despite 2,500 years of weathering. The accumulation is believed by some archaeologists to have a ritual basis, with organised deposition of produce and waste being suggested as an explanation for its size and longevity.

Shell middens are found in coastal zones in North and South America, Australasia and elsewhere. Consisting mostly of mollusc shells they are interpreted as being the waste products of meals eaten by nomadic groups or hunting parties. Some are small examples relating to meals had by a handful of individuals, others are many metres in length and width and represent centuries of shell deposition. In Brazil they are known as sambaquis, having been created over a long period between the 6th millennium BC and the beginning of European colonisation.

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