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Excavations at the "Bead Maker's Midden," Ossabaw Island, Georgia: An Examination of Mississippi Period Craft Specialization on the Georgia Coast

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In May 2005, archaeological excavations were undertaken in a single shell midden at a late prehistoric Irene phase site on Ossabaw Island, Georgia. In 1974, excavations at this midden had recovered material believed to be associated with the production of shell beads. The present study was designed specifically to assess the validity of these earlier findings through the careful collection of additional information on artifacts and raw materials used in shell working. The 2005 excavations recovered a considerable amount of stone, almost all of which is petrified wood used specifically in the production of "microdrills" for perforating shell beads. Also recovered were large quantities of fragmented knobbed whelk (Busycan carica) the principal raw material used for shell beads, as well as examples of beads in all stages of manufacture. The excavations of this midden, designated the Bead Maker's Midden, have produced abundant information bearing on shell working technology, including the full range of tools and raw materials used and the sequences involved in the production of shell beads. The archaeological data bear directly on the question of craft specialization during the Irene phase of the late Mississippi period.