The following is the fifth instalment of an 8 part summary of the work I have been undertaking on British Native or European Flat Oyster shell specimens from archaeological and present day contexts. You can see previous posts about the shells of Ostrea edulis Linnaeus by clicking here for the Oyster Variations category.
Two thousand years of eating oysters in the UK:
an archaeological perspective
Differences in the types of evidence for encrusting or infesting epibiont organisms in oyster shells closely relates to the natural conditions in which the oyster was growing – such as the depth of water, the substrate and the geographical location. Principal Component Analysis (PCA) was used initially to compare the sum total of all recorded characteristics of an oyster shell sample. However, PCA proved most useful in differentiating oysters from different regions based on the infestation characteristics (Winder 2002).
Figure 4 gives the result of a PCA of infestation in Roman oyster samples and demonstrates regional differences. Each coloured symbol on the chart represents a sample from a named site. It is only necessary to note for present purposes that the chart shows samples segregated mainly into two groups. Those from Essex and Suffolk are grouped together on the left and those from Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire to the right. Samples denoted ‘Shir’ for The Shires excavation in Leicester, and ‘Pud’ from Pudding Lane in London are included in the grouping of samples known to have originated in East Anglia and indicating that oysters at these inland sites were obtained from that part of the country.
The same marked differentiation can be seen for PCAs for other periods as well. The organisms that seem primarily (but not exclusively) to account for this regional differentiation of oysters from the South Coast compared with the East Coast are polychaete worms of the Polydora genus. These worms leave characteristic burrows in the shells. Polydora ciliata (Johnston) seems to be ubiquitous while the larger species Polydora hoplura Claparède appears to be restricted to southern waters. PCA seems a promising approach for pinpointing the source of oyster samples and will be developed.
N.B. Please leave a comment or e-mail me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to ask any questions or to have a free copy of the complete article sent to you as a pdf file. This article is just a very brief summary of my archaeological oyster research. A small selection of references to publications and reports will be provided with the article.
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