Ancient oyster shells provide historical insight


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An interdisciplinary team of scientists studying thousands of oyster shells along the Georgia coast, some 4,500 years old, have published new insights into how Native Americans sustained oyster harvesting for thousands of years, comments Today, oyster reefs may have better management practices. .


His study, led by Georgia archaeologist Victor Thompson, was published on July 10 in the journal Science advance.

New research argues that understanding the long-term sustainability of coastal ecosystems requires documenting the past and present conditions of such environments, as well as considering their future. The findings highlight the remarkable stability of oyster reefs before the 20th century and the implications for oyster-reef restoration by serving as a guide for the selection of suitable oyster restoration sites in the future.

Shellfish, such as oyster, have long been a food staple for human populations worldwide, including Native American communities along the coast of the southeastern United States. The eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica is a species frequently studied by biologists and marine ecologists as the central role species play in coastal ecosystems.

Oyster reefs are a keystone species that provide important habitat for other estuarine organisms. However, Oyster populations have declined dramatically over the past 100 years due to overspecification, climate change and habitat degradation.

“Oyster reefs were an integral part of the Native American landscape, and our study suggests that long-term sustainability was possible due to the sophisticated cultural systems that govern harvesting practices,” said Thompson, professor of anthropology at Franklin College of the Arts said. And science and director of the UGA Laboratory of Archaeological Sciences.

According to Thompson, earlier models used by archaeologists are not sufficiently responsible for the role that indigenous people had not only in maintaining ecosystems, but also in increasing biodiversity.

“Our research suggests there was potential for harvesting by Native American communities towards continuity,” he said. “Workers here along the Georgia coast, as well as colleagues working in the Pacific and Amazonia, indicate that indigenous people had a wealth of traditional ecological knowledge about these landscapes and actively managed them for thousands of years . “

Changes in the size and abundance of oyster shell are widely used to examine the pressure of human populations and the health of oyster reefs. Researchers found about 40,000 oyster shells ranging from 15 Late Archaic (4500–3500 years before the present) through the Mississippian (1150–370 yr BP) period to oyster archaeological sites located along the South Atlantic coast of the United States. Long term record provided. To document oyster abundance and size during harvesting practices and times.

The new findings reflect an increase in the size of oysters throughout time and a non-dimensional pattern in their distribution across archaeological sites, which the author believes is related to different environmental conditions found in different regions .

When researchers compared their work to maps of the 19th century distribution of oyster reefs, they found that the two were highly correlated. All data on oyster size and reef size suggested that there was considerable stability in oyster productivity over time, even though some reefs were not as productive as others. This overall productivity changed, however, in the early 1900s when industrial oyster canning devastated the reefs, today only a small percentage of reefs are viable.

“This work, which was partially supported by the Georgia Coastal Ecosystem Long Term Ecological Research Project, demonstrates the importance of understanding the role that humans play in shaping the landscape, and is one of the things that ecological studies I do not always appreciate “Albert, professor and director of the UAP Marine Institute of Sapello Island, the excavation site for this study.


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more information:
Victor D. Thompson et al., Ecosystem stability and harvesting of American radish along the Atlantic coast of the United States, Science advance (2020). DOI: 10.1126 / Sciadv.aba9652

Provided by the University of Georgia

Quotes: Ancient oyster shells provide historical insight (2020, July 14) from https://phys.org/news/2020-07-ancient-oyster-shells-historical-insights.html retrieved 15 July 2020

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