Estimating volumes of coastal shell midden sites using geometric solids




Gustas, Robert H.
McKechnie, Iain
Mackie, Quentin
Darimont, Chris

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Advances in Archaeological Practice


Coastal shell midden deposits are a quintessential component of the archaeological record on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Despite their importance in informing the cultural and environmental histories of Indigenous peoples, research on shell middens has largely not sought to address the physical extent of these cultural deposits, which requires estimating shape, depth, and volume. Here, we present a new scalable geospatial model, designed to work with legacy survey data, for estimating midden volumes based on applying a regular geometric solid to sites with known extent and depth. We evaluate the accuracy of this technique using percussion core, total station, and lidar data from eight sites in Tseshaht territory on western Vancouver Island and three sites on the north coast of British Columbia (Canada). As part of the evaluation process of our results, we calculate uncertainty using subsurface core depth data and then compare generalized and modeled midden volume estimates. We demonstrate an accurate general model applied at the regional scale across a systematically surveyed landscape. This work presents the first landscape-scale measure of midden extents and volume within our study area, with relevance to historical ecology and settlement patterns.



coastal archaeology, geospatial methods, geometric volume estimation, shell midden, Northwest Coast, GIS, 3D modeling


Gustas, R. H., McKechnie, I., Mackie, Q., & Darimont, C. (2022). “Estimating volumes of coastal shell midden sites using geometric solids.” Advances in Archaeological Practice, 10(2), 200-214.