Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Kirkland, Brenda

Committee Member

Peacock, Evan

Committee Member

Rafferty, Janet

Committee Member

Gabitov, Rinat

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Geosciences


Seasonality estimates based on archaeological shellfish remains have been an important component of settlement pattern reconstruction. Investigations of this nature allow researchers to place prehistoric people on the landscape at points in space at different times of the year. Many of the previous seasonality studies, however, have focused on marine species from coastal sites, with little attention given to freshwater locales, especially ones in the Mississippi Delta. To address that disparity, this study examines freshwater mussel “season of capture” via analysis of stable oxygen isotope ratios in specimens recovered from two Late Woodland sites located along the Yazoo River, Mississippi. As freshwater mussel shells are composed of aragonite, a metastable form of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), they can suffer greatly from the impact of meteoric diagenesis. Because of this, samples must be evaluated for diagenesis prior to any geochemical analysis taking place. Archaeological shell samples were examined via thin-section petrography and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Visual analysis indicated pristine aragonite microstructure and crystallography in all archaeological shell samples, and confirmed their suitability for isotope analysis. Vetted shells were then micromilled across accretionary growth bands, and analyzed for their oxygen isotope signatures. Isotope profiles were then interpreted for their individual “season of capture”, and oscillation patterns for 22 shell specimens indicated mussels were being collected in all four seasons. These data support the view that at least some portion of the human population at both sites engaged in shellfishing activities year-round, indicating sedentary populations at both locales. The shell assemblages were also investigated for the purpose of informing modern conservation efforts (i.e., “applied zooarchaeology”). Nearly 24,000 valves were analyzed taxonomically, yielding the presence of 37 species, of which 24 represented new river records for the Yazoo River. These data provide a valuable historical perspective, cataloging communities as they existed prior to extensive modern impacts, thus representing an ecological baseline to be compared with modern populations. Though modern data are extremely limited for the river, the study revealed it once supported a diverse mussel community containing numerous species currently considered rare, endangered, or extinct in Mississippi.