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Snails from Henlade, Somerset, UK

December 6, 2008

Discus rotundatus

A shell of Discus rotundatus (Müller 1774) from Henlade, Somerset, UK. D. rotundatus is a shade-loving species. Incidentally, the backdrop to this picture is a 1946 edition of F.W. Walbank's 1944 book 'The Decline of the Roman Empire in the West'. Frank William Walbank CBE, Rathbone Professor of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology at the University of Liverpool from 1951 to 1977, died on October 23rd 2008, aged 99.

For the past two weeks, I have been part of a team excavating a site near to Henlade in Somerset. While on the site, I decided to opportunistically collect a few (modern) empty snail shells, to see what has been living there. I’ve targeted two areas so far, a small shaded area at the bottom of the field near to a stream, and the line of a hedgerow that had been cleared and stripped of topsoil ahead of the excavation. To reiterate, the shells have been opportunistically gathered rather than systematically sampled, so there’ll be a bias towards larger shells.

In the shaded area by the stream, I found Discus rotundatus (Müller 1774) and a snail of the family Zonitidae, most likely Aegopinella nitidula (Draparnaud 1805) so far, as well a juvenile shell of the family Zonitidae.

The line of the old hedgerow is especially shell rich, and will certainly be receiving further attention. So far, I’ve found a juvenile Cepaea sp., a single D. rotundatus, and a number of specimens of Trochilus hispidus L.

Elsewhere on the site, I’ve spotted another Cepaea sp. shell, and another juvenile Zonitidae sp., as well as some very broken Lymnaeidae sp. shells (they looked like Radix balthica L.) in a (probably) Bronze Age watering hole – which have been saved for further analysis in a bulk sediment sample.

The assemblage is not too surprising for the areas I’ve been collecting from. D rotundatus and A. nitidula both enjoy shaded habitats, while T. hispidus and Cepaea are pretty ubiquitous across a range of habitats. R. balthica is a catholic freshwater species, and in this case is indicative of standing water in the watering hole (again, no surprise if you know a priori that it is watering hole, but in archaeology we don’t always know for sure what a feature is a priori, so the snails add a little extra evidence towards determining what the feature may have been).


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