First step in studying mussels from East Steubenville: sorting by species.

The prehistoric Ohio River supported nearly 40 species of freshwater mussels. Our first question in studying the mussel shells excavated at East Steubenville was, which varieties were harvested for food?

Freshwater mussel shell anatomy: we used differences in shape, size, and other shell features to sort the archaeological shell by species (image courtesy University of Tennessee Press).

Project malacologist Dr. Bud Rollins and GAI's Lisa Dugas classified 5000 mussel shell according to species. We found that, although Native Americans had harvested 26 different species, only six types were commonly collected.

In the preindustrial Ohio Valley of 4000 years ago, freshwater mussels grew in many settings, from small streams to large

Recording counts of classified shell.

 
Shallow water mussel species like the spike (Elliptio dilatata) were common in the shell excavated at East Steubenville (photo courtesy University of Tennessee Press).
rivers. Where did the Native Americans at East Steubenville find them? By looking at typical habitats for the different species excavated at East Steubenville, it was clear that these Panhandle Archaic people most often collected mussels such as spikes (Elliptio dilatata) that were adapted to living in shallows of large rivers with gravel bottoms and swift currents. This tells us that the East Steubenville people almost certainly harvested these shellfish from the adjacent Ohio River. These mussels might well have been found just south of the site, in shallows at the river's confluence with Mahan Run.

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