Shellfish and Shell Midden Sites in the Saloum Delta (Senegal): Past and Present

Abdoulaye Camara, Karen Hardy, Edmond Dioh, Mathieu Gueye, Raquel Piqué, Matthieu Carré, Moustapha Sall, Michel Waly Diouf

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7 Citations (Scopus)


© 2017 Elsevier Masson SAS The three main branches of the Saloum delta: the Saloum in the north (110 km), the Diombos (30 km) and the Bandiala in the south (18 km) are joined by numerous small channels, locally called “bolons”. They create many islands that are bordered by dense mangrove and comprise three ecological zones: maritime, amphibious and continental. The delta comprises an area of around 500,000 ha and is inhabited by human communities that have been involved in maritime activities for well over two millennia. These include the exploitation of shellfish including the bivalves oyster, Crassostrea gasar, and cockle (Arca senilis) as well as the gastropods “Yett” (Cymbium spp.) and “Touffa” (Murex spp., Thais spp.), and the cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis), all of which proliferate in the Delta. Artificial shell mounds comprising bivalves and gastropods provide evidence for a human presence in the Delta for well over 2000 years. In some cases, the shell mounds have also been reused as burial grounds and contain many remains of the ancient fisher-collector inhabitants. The Saloum delta is: (1) an exceptional archaeological landscape with many hundreds of sites, and several periods of excavation, including 1939 (J. de Saint-Seine, M. Yvetot, T. Monod), 1951-1956 (H. Bessac, R. Mauny, G. Thilmans and C. Descamps), in 2000 (H. Bocoum, A. Camara, C. Descamps, E. Dioh, M. Gueye, A.A. Seck, G. Thilmans); (2) an archaeological heritage comprising shell mounds which support many baobab trees (Adonsonia digitata). In some cases, these trees become “sacred forests or woods” where ritual activities take place near modern villages; (3) a rich natural heritage containing shell mounds that have become refuges for wildlife especially birds, and flora… (4) a cultural landscape comprising enduring traditions that are thousands of years old, based on shellfish harvesting and fishing, in a fragile natural environment of great biodiversity. It is one of the few places in the world where traditional shellfishing still survives. Researchers from Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar (A. Camara, E. Dioh, M. Guèye, M. Sall) and a team from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) (K. Hardy, R. Piqué, J. Marti) have been conducting ethnoarchaeological research on the Atlantic coast and the Gokehor bolon since 2010. The focus of the work is to document the distribution of the archaeological shell middens, conduct excavations, obtain samples for radiocarbon dating and record the cultural traditions associated with the current collection of shell middens. There are many features of this research that will be of interest to archaeologists, as well as contributing data in palaeoclimatology, archaeozoology and malacology in a delta inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2011 on the basis of criteria III, IV and V.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-214
JournalAnthropologie (France)
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017


  • Saloum Delta
  • Shellfish and Shell Middens
  • World heritage


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