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North Midden, Sannai Maruyama, Japan

North Midden, Sannai Maruyama, Japan


A midden is the archaeological term for trash or garbage heap. Archaeologists love middens, because they contain the broken remains from all kinds of cultural behaviors, including food stuff and broken crockery; exhausted stone and metal tools; organic matter and sometimes burials. In some cases, midden environments have excellent preservation of organic materials like wood, basketry, and plant food.

Middens are found everywhere humans live or have lived: sometimes in thin sheets extending out from the back of a dwelling (known as sheet midden); sometimes placed into empty storage facilities, such as a storage pit or abandoned building); and sometimes simply in great piles. Modern middens are known as "landfills".

The first middens that were extensively investigated were enormous heaps of shells, or shell middens, called "kitchen middens" in the 19th century, probably because they were so easily identified. Shell middens can be enormous, since mollusks produce so little edible meat compared to the size of their shells.


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com Guide to Archaeology Site Types and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

These are only a few of the more recent articles on middens.

Beck, Margaret E. 2006 Midden ceramic assemblage formation: a case study from Kalinga, Philippines. American Antiquity 71:27-52.

Diehl, Michael W. 1998 The interpretation of archaeological floor assemblages: A case study from the American southwest. American Antiquity 63(4):617-634.

Knight, Vernon J. Jr. 2004 Characterizing Elite Midden Deposits at Moundville. American Antiquity 69(2):304-321.

Rosenswig, Robert M. 2007 Beyond identifying elites: Feasting as a means to understand early Middle Formative society on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 26(1):1-27.

Stein, Julie K., Jennie N. Deo, and Laura S. Phillips 2003 Big sites--short time: Accumulation rates in archaeological sites. Journal of Archaeological Science 30:297-316.

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