kitchen midden, refuse heap left by a prehistoric settlement; more specifically, a deposit consisting primarily of discarded shell and related cultural material in coastal environments. First studied (1848) in Denmark, middens are an important source of ecological and cultural information. Kitchen middens, generally known as shell mounds in the Americas, usually date from the late Mesolithic period. Their contents include artifacts that can be dated, suggesting the mode of life and technology of ancient peoples. Analysis of animal remains can indicate the climate, season, length of occupation, hunting patterns, and the possible presence of domestication. Such middens generally represent only one component of a complex foraging strategy of migratory hunter-gatherers.
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