Archive for the ‘North America’ Category


Research points to traditional custodians for clues to sustainable practices. Natalie Parletta reports.

Researchers in British Columbia, Canada excavate ancient shells from the beach of a “clam garden” — a constructed rock-face terrace where Indigenous People cultivated clams.

Mark Wunsch (Greencoast Media, British Columbia, Canada).

Coastal ecosystems are not only threatened by habitat loss and climate change; a breakdown of traditional aquaculture practices could also have contributed significantly to their deterioration.

This has been illustrated by an 11,500-year analysis of human coexistence with clams in British Columbia, Canada, published in the Proceedings of theNational Academy of Sciences.

Ginevra Toniello, from Simon Fraser University, Canada, and colleagues gathered paleoecological, archaeological and modern records of butter clams(Saxidomus gigantea) in the northern Salish Sea to understand their relationship with humans throughout the Holocene.

The cultural significance of these bivalves is revealed by stories, rituals, language and the deep piles of ancient shell middens that line kilometres of coastlines. Archaeological and ethnographic analyses suggest clams were popular food sources harvested seasonally and all year round and enjoyed both fresh and preserved.

Butter clams from 11,500-11,000 years ago (left) and 10,900-9,500 years ago (right) showing the sometimes dramatic differences in size through time.

Archaeological records can also provide insights into the ecological impacts of interactions between humans and fauna, while palaeoecological information can reveal the ecology of species without human interference.

“Taken together,” Toniello and coauthors write, “these two records can offer a powerful lens through which to assess coupled social-ecological systems over broad spatial and temporal scales and can help establish ecological baselines for modern management.”

To peek into the past, the researchers gathered clam shells from middens at five coastal sites and measured the size and width of growth rings in the mollusc’s shells. They put these into context according to their historical location, before, during and after evidence of management by indigenous people and were able to group the samples into seven time periods.

Together, these data allowed them to analyse predictors of clam size throughout the Holocene.

They found the mollusc shells’ size and growth was limited in early postglacial times, but then flourished over the next few millennia until the early-Late Holocene, likely reflecting more favourable habitat conditions.

Middens showed evidence that humans then harvested them around 9000 years ago, and about 5500 years later started constructing clam gardens – “intertidal rock-walled terraces” – as a form of aquaculture management.

The gardens made the bivalves more accessible to harvesters by reducing the beach slope, exposing more beach during low tide, and bringing them closer to human settlements.

The researchers believe the gardens’ construction reflected population growth and increased complexity of social structures, necessitating measures to preserve the clams for food and trade.

By around 2700 years ago, harvesting intensified, yet evidence suggests the clam populations flourished throughout the Late Holocene.

The clam habitats were likely preserved by the gardens built by generations of Indigenous peoples, the team suggests. Along with cultivation methods such as tilling, removing non-human predators, removing rocks, modifying the substrate and monitoring access, the Indigenous people were able to maintain a sustainable harvest.

Toniello and colleagues speculate that the course sediment garden terrace and rock wall also facilitated abundant growth and access to other marine foods like crabs, sea cucumbers and seaweeds.

Sadly, modern records indicate that growing conditions declined since European settlement replaced traditional management practices with industrial activities, with an impact comparable to the ice age.

“It is striking that the growth patterns of clams living in the beach today are most similar to the clams that lived and died in the unstable and relatively unproductive habitats of the Early Holocene,” the group writes.

“As in the Early Historic Period, we propose that the current low productivity is due to the decline in traditional management, including ongoing tilling through harvesting.”

They note it could also be attributed to deposition of fine silts on the clam beaches – less favourable for clam growth than the coarse grains used as garden substrates – as a result of logging, along with warmer ocean temperatures and associated declines in productivity.

Nonetheless, they suggest modern humans could learn much from traditional practices for aquaculture management, which also has broader ecological and ethical implications.

“Examining the deep and specific history of human-species relationships, such as that between people and clams, is requisite for understanding and better managing our resources and ecosystems today,” they write.

“Documenting these interactions between humans and coastal ecosystems, such as we have done here, also counteracts the erasure of the long-term connections of Indigenous peoples to their lands and seas.”

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on this day ten years ago…
via Dig reveals ancient fields

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By Matthew Sanger


BINGHAMTON, NEW YORK—According to a Science News report, hunter-gatherers living in North America some 4,000 years ago may have had direct trade links spanning 900 miles. A ceremonial copper object has been found surrounded by a ring of seashells at an ancient grave site on St. Catherines Island off the coast of Georgia. Known as the McQueen shell ring, the circle of shells measures nearly 230 feet across. At its center, anthropologist Matthew Sanger of Binghamton University and his colleagues unearthed a pit containing the copper band, bits of stone tools, and tens of thousands of ash-encrusted bone and tooth fragments representing at least seven individuals. Such cremation burials are rare in the Southeast for this period, Sanger said. Chemical analysis of the copper band, which has been radiocarbon dated to between 4,300 and 3,800 years old, indicates it originated in copper mines at Lake Superior, in an area where cremation burials from this period are found more frequently. People living in the Southeast and Great Lakes regions may have gathered together at Georgia’s McQueen shell ring, Sanger explained, for seasonal ceremonies, where they feasted on fish, clams, oysters, hickory nuts, and acorns. To read about the possible function of “bannerstones” made by prehistoric Native Americans, go to “Set in Stone.”

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On this day ten years ago…

via Oldest Chocolate in U.S. Found

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On this day ten years ago…

via Ancient humans left evidence from the party that ended 4,000 years ago

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University of Victoria students Walker Tottman and Aren Rosholt helped excavate long-ago feast with legal implications today. Arrow points to the discovered geoduck clam shell, at least 500 years old. Photo: Iain McKechnie.

By Denise Titian



Archeologists just proved the Nuu-chah-nulth ate geoducks 500 years ago. That’s big.

One day between five and ten centuries ago, people living on what is now known as Keith Island finished eating a geoduck clam and placed its shell neatly alongside others.

The implications of that moment — brought to light this month by archeologists — loom large for Indigenous nations pursuing the right to harvest and sell geoduck clams on their territories in British Columbia.

Keith Island, part of the Broken Group Islands off the west coast of Vancouver Island, is the territory of the Tseshaht First Nation, one of 14 nations that make up the Nuu-chah-nulth people of western Vancouver Island.

University of Victoria archaeologist and assistant professor Iain McKechnie said several shell fragments and a large, intact geoduck clam shell was found more than a metre deep in a pit on Keith Island on July 13.

The find proves that Tseshaht, before the arrival of Europeans, had access to and consumed geoduck clams, among other species. This discovery could support other coastal First Nations’ fisheries rights claims when it comes to shellfish.

Geoduck is a species of gigantic saltwater clams with a retail price of up to $30 a pound on the Asian market, where they’re highly sought-after due to their supposed aphrodisiacal attributes. The Chinese market for geoducks from Canada got a boost when China placed a tariff on U.S. producers in retaliation for tariffs imposed on Chinese goods by the Trump administration.

In 2009 the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that Nuu-chah-nulth-aht have a constitutional right to fish and sell fish from their territory, but geoducks were excluded from the ruling. The court argued that the species have only been harvested since the invention of modern equipment and there was no evidence that First Nations collected them.

The Keith Island find says otherwise.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time I’ve seen geoduck archaeological remains — we are confident that this is not a horse clam,” stated McKechnie.

McKechnie went on to say that this is the first find of this type in Nuu-chah-nulth territory and even on the coast of British Columbia.

“I am not aware of others,” he said.

Tseshaht Councillor Luke George said that members of his nation heard the news about the geoduck find and were pleased.

“It is exciting to have proof that helps our case when it comes to our rights to harvest shellfish; this solidifies something for Tseshaht, and for that, we are grateful,” he said.

The geoduck shells and other materials unearthed at Keith Island this summer will be sent to the University of Victoria for analysis.

Over the past three summers, archaeology students unearthed thousands of artifacts on Keith Island, including a full set of bones from a woolly dog that is now extinct. The geoduck shells were found nearby, in a place that had been used continuously by Tseshaht for hundreds of years.

Archaeologist teams work at the site for two weeks each summer. This year is the third at Keith Island. The work is made possible through a partnership among the UVic Archaeology Field School, Parks Canada and Tseshaht First Nation .

McKechnie said the shells were located in a deposit that is at least 500 years old but could date back as much as 1,000 years.

It was in a feature with other clams,” he said, adding that it appeared that the collection of shells may have been part of an ancient clam bake.

The shells appeared to be arranged purposefully and many intact shells were found with both sides of the shell aligned.

In addition, the shells in that layer of earth had evidence of oily residue inside the shells along with charred organic materials, like vegetation.

What this shows is that past generations of Tseshaht harvested these and more than 40 other species of shellfish, and brought them home for processing at this site, said McKechnie, whose work is part of the Hakai Institute’s marine science programs funded by the Tula Foundation.

“This (dig site) contains a record of the people living here; it gives us information about the people living here, where they were going for food, what they are eating and how they harvested their food,” he said.

Denis St. Claire, an archaeologist since 1970, is the Tseshaht representative on the project and its co-director. He pointed to a long ridge that runs parallel to the beach, saying that it was a mulch pile made up of bones and shells that would have been outside the longhouses that were once there.

A few feet away lies a toppled tree, its roots studded with seashells hundreds of years old — shells that nurtured the tree until it fell.

There were pits on each side of the ridge, each about two metres square and just under two metres deep. The UVic archaeologists uncovered several generations of cooking hearths in one pit and even a shadowy impression left from a wooden house post.

The island was inhabited up until the 1950s so the top layers of soil contain items that came after contact, like metal nails and wood stove parts.

“This island contains both a past and current history,” said St. Claire.

With files from The Tyee.

A version of this story first appeared in the Ha-Shilth-Sa, Canada’s oldest First Nations newspaper, published by the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council.  [Tyee]

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Frog carved from shell and mollusk shells





Around A.D. 400, archaeologists believe, children from the indigenous Caribbean Saladoid culture on the island of St. Thomas helped their mothers put food on the table by foraging. The researchers have found that a midden in downtown Charlotte Amalie contains thousands of mollusk shells, the majority of which are smaller snails that adults wouldn’t have bothered to collect because of their low meat yield. Rather, these smaller animals were gathered by Saladoid children, who scoured shallow areas along the shore. “Children made it possible to exploit a wider area more efficiently,” says archaeologist William Keegan of the Florida Museum of Natural History. They could fill a whole basket with small whelks, he explains, and still easily carry it back to their village.

Such aid was necessary because Saladoid communities were matrilocal, so men lived primarily in their mothers’ villages rather than with their wives and children. This made women responsible for providing most of the food for their families, says Keegan. They would supplement produce from their gardens with shellfish, collected in part by the helping hands of their children.




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