University of Leicester
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Landscapes of Maritime Complexity: Prehistoric Shell Work Sites of the Ten Thousand Islands, Florida

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posted on 2010-07-26, 14:21 authored by Margo Schwadron
The Ten Thousand Islands (TTI) region of southwest Florida contains extensive prehistoric shell middens and mounds called shell works. Though shell work sites comprise some of the largest and most complicated prehistoric shell constructions in the world, prior to this study, none had been thoroughly examined in their spatial, temporal and functional contexts, and shell work sites remain very poorly understood. This thesis aims to define the archaeological characteristics of shell work sites within the TTI region, including their spatial patterns, function, geographic extent, and temporal affiliation. Though shell work sites are complex, complicated sites that are analogous to palimpsests, I argue that shell work sites are more than just large shell midden accumulations, amalgamations of shell mounds, or assemblages of features; they are distinct, socially constructed prehistoric landscapes. In order to understand these complex histories, I contend that they need to be examined on several complementary temporal and spatial scales, and I incorporate a multi-scalar landscape approach. This includes examining shell work sites as individually constructed features and sites, as human centered social landscapes, and within a larger, regional settlement pattern context. Central to my thesis is the hypothesis that shell work sites reflect changes in social complexity. I posit that shell work sites throughout the region are arranged in spatially similar patterns, ranging from small, simple shell midden rings, to massive islands completely constructed out of complex arrangements of shell. I test the theory that similarity or diversity in site layouts, and the presence or absence of certain architectural features reflects changes in community and social organization over time, and thus, social complexity.



Gillings, Mark; Taylor, Jeremy

Date of award


Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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