Shorelines, strandlopers and shell middens

Bookshelf: Shorelines, Strandlopers and Shell Middens

Shorelines, Strandlopers and Shell Middens – John Parkington

Shorelines, strandlopers and shell middens
Shorelines, strandlopers and shell middens

I’m currently delving into some subjects I know nothing about, stone age archaeology being one. I harboured a childhood dream of excavating ancient Egyptian artefacts, but that came to nought and I ended up a mathematician – manipulating things I can’t even see or touch. Ah well.

Strandlopers are the people who lived as hunter gatherers along the Southern African coastline, related to the San. A shell midden is basically an ancient dustbin, and the strandlopers would have generated these when they stopped at a location for any length of time. They are typically densely packed collections of shells that are all of a certain size (large enough to be worth harvesting and eating) and from a limited set of edible species. In this way they are distinguishable from random heaps of shells. A midden of considerable size would have been built up in a relatively short time owing to the sheer number of molluscs it is necessary to consume in order to have something approaching a decent diet! Shell middens exist around South Africa’s coast, including a couple in False Bay which I plan to hunt down. It is believed that the consumption of shellfish – which are extremely nutritious – by early humans contributed to increased brain size and the development of more complex civilisations.

John Parkington, the author of this book, is a lecturer in archaeology at the University of Cape Town. His writing style is clear and expository, and enabled me to follow along with little to no background knowledge on the subject. The book is extensively illustrated with photographs, including of Parkington’s collaborators at the university. I appreciated the fact that each person’s full name was provided.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the early history of humans along South Africa’s coast, I’d recommend starting with the series Shoreline, which provided an excellent introduction to the subject. The Sea-Change project also explores our ancestors’ interactions with the marine world.

You can find this book here, or perhaps at Kalk Bay Books.

Published by


Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

Leave a Reply