Oxygen isotope seasonality in a temperate estuarine shell midden: a case study from CA-ALA-17 on the San Francisco Bay, California

Brendan J. Culleton, Douglas J. Kennett, Terry L. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

41 Scopus citations

Abstract

Seasonality determination using stable oxygen isotope (δ18O) analyses in archaeological mollusk shell has been largely limited to aquatic settings where one of the two factors that control shell δ18O - water δ18O (or salinity) and temperature - is assumed to be constant. Open coastal marine environments reflect the former situation, and tropical estuaries constitute the latter. In an effort to expand stable isotope seasonality to an ecological setting where neither variable remains constant, we present a model of annual shell δ18O cycle of aragonite deposition derived from instrumental data on salinity and temperature from San Francisco Bay, California. The predicted range of modeled shell δ18O is consistent with observed δ18O values in prehistoric and modern shells when local conditions are considered. Measurements of δ18O taken at 0 mm and 2 mm from the terminal growth margin were made on 36 archaeological specimens of Macoma nasuta from a late Holocene hunter-gatherer site CA-ALA-17, and season of collection was inferred using the shell δ18O model. We conclude that shellfish exploitation occurred through the year with the exception of fall, which may indicate scheduling conflicts with acorn harvesting or other seasonally abundant resources elsewhere. The model supports the feasibility of stable isotope seasonality studies in temperate estuaries, provided that instrumental records are available to quantify the relevant water conditions at appropriate spatial and temporal scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1354-1363
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Volume36
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology

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