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A gift from the garden

May 20, 2009
Left valve of oyster from the garden

Left valve of oyster from the garden

You may recall in this post I wrote about finding animal bones and an oyster shell in my parents’ garden when I was young. I still have the bones, but alas the oyster shell is lost. Well, visiting my parents’ garden this weekend, I noticed the shell pictured above in one of their flowerbeds.

The shell is part of the left valve of an oyster (Ostrea edulis L.). Although it is somewhat broken and abraded, I can tell it is a left valve because of the way it curves, right valves are generally flat.  The hole in the shell may have been formed by another animal boring through the shell during the oyster’s lifetime, for example the aptly-named oyster drill Ocenebra erinacea L., a gastropod which preys on oysters and other shellfish.

I like these chance encounters with the past. As Grant (2002: 19) notes, although now considered a luxury commodity, oysters were once an inexpensive and common foodstuff even among relatively poor people. Oyster consumption became incredibly widespread in the UK during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially as the development of the railway network enabled fresh stock to be carried around the country quickly (Yonge 1966: 156, Stott 2004: 64), however oyster stocks declined steadily towards the end of the nineteenth century(Yonge 1966: 157-8).

It could be that this is the same oyster shell I recovered from that garden wall construction cut all those years ago, unfortunately I have no way of knowing.

References:

Grant, A., 2002, Food, Status and Social Hierarchy, in Milner, N., and Miracle, P., (Eds), Consuming Passions and Patterns of Consumption. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

Stott, R., 2004, Oyster. London: Reaktion

Yonge, C.M., 1966. Oysters. Second Edition. London: Collins

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