In the last 3 years, as part of my PhD in the DISPERSE Project at the University of York, I have worked extensively on the Farasan Islands (Google Maps link) in the southern Red Sea, which definitely has its upsides. You are surrounded by crystal clear water and, more importantly, you are able to eat extremely tasty fish every night.
|Living specimen of Conomurex fasciatus.|
Sichel-shaped operculum (a kind of trap door hatch)
can be used as a pick to eat the animal after it is cooked.
|Shell mound at Janaba Bay. Cars to indicate scale|
Luckily, there were not many shell species that I needed to analyse, because 95% of the shell mounds consisted of the species Conomurex fasciatus (or Strombus fasciatus, the common name is the lined conch). Unfortunately, there is not much published on this species, however, we know that the shells are generally between 2 and 5 cm, they are found almost exclusively in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, and are very pretty!
|Artisanal fishers invited the team on a cruise|
(Photo © C. Beresford)
|Typical amount from 30 min of fishing (Photo © C. Beresford)|
For once, the incredibly hot conditions and aridity of the desert landscape had an advantage! If there is no rain, and there are no rivers or generally no freshwater bodies whatsoever (so the shells live in normal saltiness sea water), then they cannot mess up my geochemistry. Good news for me! It did rain once while I was on the Farasan Islands, it was over soon and flowed off the island within minutes.
|Me, visually analysing erosional processes after|
a very rare rain shower at Janaba Bay (Photo © R. Inglis)
In the bigger perspective, we can apply these results to the rest of the southern Red Sea and have an idea of how rich the marine wildlife was and how important it was as food source in comparison to the desert landscape of Arabia.
Niklas Hausmann is a PhD student in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. He is supervised at the BGS by Melanie Leng in the Stable Isotope Facility.