Historic Oyster Shell Donated to Oyster Recovery Partnership’s Shell Recycling Alliance

shell recycling alliance logoshell recycling alliance logoThis winter, the Maryland State Highway Administrations Cultural Resources Section donated approximately 250 pounds of broken oyster shell to the Oyster Recovery Partnership’s Shell Recycling Alliance. Archaeologists recovered the shell during an investigation on the shore of the Patuxent River near Benedict in Charles County, Maryland. The site is a mid 17th through early 18th century dwelling site, long buried under a still-cultivated farm field.
During archaeological investigations, archaeologists uncover artifacts buried in layers of soils, going back in time as they dig deeper while documenting the collection of artifacts in each layer. Because archaeologists do not know how deeply buried an archaeological site may be located, archaeologists collect all the artifacts they encounter as they excavate. SHA archaeologists found the large amount of oyster shells at the Benedict site and inspected the shells in the field and in the lab. The oyster shell was primarily located in the upper layers of the excavation, the plow zone, suggesting that most shells likely dated from the period following the site’s abandonment and from the period of its use as an agricultural field. During the nineteenth century, oyster shell was a common fertilizer for farmers.
While the research value of the shell was limited, SHA found an alternative use for the analyzed shell. The Oyster Recovery Partnership’s Oyster Recycling Program collects oyster shells to build new oyster habitat in the Chesapeake Bay. Natural oyster shell is the best material on which to raise young oysters and to restore oyster reefs, and due to decades of overharvesting, oyster shell is an extremely limited natural resource. Oysters benefit the Chesapeake Bay as efficient filter feeders, improving water quality, and reducing nitrogen levels. Through the donation of the remnants of meals from long ago, SHA is benefitting oyster habitat restoration, contributing to a future of a healthy Chesapeake Bay and the possibility of a Maryland oyster industry revival.