The Australian National University
ANH Osteology

ANU Archaeology and Natural History Mollusc Shell Reference Collection

The ANU Department of Archaeology and Natural History maintains a collection of marine, freshwater and terrestrial mollusc shells for use in identifying shells recovered from archaeological sites. We have an extensive Australian and New Zealand marine collection, and also significant collections from Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Tonga, Fiji, and French Polynesia marine waters. Our freshwater and terrestrial collections are more limited and are concentrated on Australian and New Zealand territory. The collection is available to students and researchers. Contact ANH for access.

We also have a strong fish bone comparative collection and smaller mammal, bird, reptile and amphibian bone collections; see the osteology collection overview page for more information.

A catalog of the holdings in the ANH mollusc shell collection is available via an online catalog. This catalog includes marine, freshwater, and terrestrial mollusc shells. Note that the habitat (marine, terrestrial or freshwater) is identified only at the family level; some families include species resident in more than one habitat. Efforts have been made to ensure that specimens from those families are included in catalog searches of all relevant habitats, but there may be some specimens with misleading habitat designations. Therefore it is best to always search or browse the catalog with all habitats included. Detailed descriptions of the fields included in the catalog are available in the shell collection help file.

The collection is sorted into taxonomic order and stored in flat boxes identified by a number. The quickest way to find a particular specimen is to perform a search for it in the online catalog and note its Specimen Id and the Storage Box number in which it is stored. This box may then be retrieved from the shelving and the specimen located via the id number. While members of the same genus and species are intended to be grouped together in the same area of each box to make finding specimens easier, this should not be relied upon.

Taxonomic Notes

Mollusc taxonomies are varied and very dynamic. The taxonomic identification of many specimens have changed since they were originally identified; species and genus names which were once accepted are now considered invalid and the corresponding populations incorporated into new or existing taxonomic designations. The authorities used by ANH in its reference collections are:

  1. Integrated Taxonomic Information Species (ITIS), and
  2. World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS).
During 2013, the taxonomic status of all specimens were checked against these authorities, and changed when necessary. The change is recorded in the catalog, and both the past and present identifications retained on paper tags included with the specimens. There are some cases, especially for terrestrial molluscs, where a specimen's taxonomic identification does not appear in either authority but which does seem (based on inclusion in respectable publications or web sites) to be a valid taxonomic identification. These were not changed.

Some of the original shell identifications only specified a family or genus, typically using a designation such as "Achatina sp.". A few of these were resolved by mollusc identification experts, but many have not yet been identified beyond the original designation. These are shown in the catalog (and in the statistics below) as "unknown" (eg., Achatina unknown).

Identifications were normally performed on multiple samples of a particular species. The grouping of these multiple samples has been retained, with each grouping assigned a different Specimen Id and an entry in the catalog. Thus some common species, such as Anadara granosa have multiple specimen identifications, each of which is stored in its own small box or vial.

Collection Statistics

Specimen Counts
Specimen Identifications Cataloged: 3933
Missing, No Loan Recorded: 17
Specimen Identifications Present: 3916
Total Shells Included: 22,445
Taxonomy Statistics
Families Represented: 179
Genuses Represented: 639 (including 52 unknown genuses from different families)
Species Represented: 1468 (including 320 unknown species from different genuses or families)
Most Specimens in One Identification Group: 3200 (Opacuincola troglodytes)
Most Specimens from One Species: 3200 (Opacuincola troglodytes)
Secondmost Specimens from One Species: 2075(Bankivia fasciata)
Most Specimen Identifications from One Species: 29 (Canarium mutabile)
Specimen Identifications by Country
Australia 1083
New Zealand 720
Fiji 275
New Caledonia 194
Vanuatu 188
Papua New Guinea 167
Thailand 148
Solomon Islands 130
Tonga 93
Malaysia 81
Indonesia 69
French Polynesia 61
Cook Islands 55
American Samoa 43
Samoa 41
USA (mostly Hawaii) 14
United Kingdom 5