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Using Oysters to Understand the Environment from Thousands of Years Ago - Sophie Forbes

01/09/2023 6:32 PM | Anvi Srivastava (Administrator)

Ossabaw Island, a barrier island off of the coast of Georgia within the Georgia Bight region, was first inhabited by Native Americans over 5000 years ago. This research project seeks to understand how Native Americans and later Euroamerican inhabitants of Ossabaw Island harvested resources from the surrounding coastal environments over the last 2000 years. By measuring the ratio of oxygen isotopes in oyster shells found in middens and shell rings, it is possible to reconstruct the environment from which oysters were harvested. This method, called sclerochronology, is the basis for the research project. The relative water temperature calculated from the oxygen isotope ratio in an oyster’s last growth line represents the season that the oyster was harvested, and the salinity of the water represents the environment the oyster lived in (i.e., brackish or fresh). Therefore, through this method it is possible to make statements about the seasons sites were occupied and the types of habitats that were the focus of shellfish collection. Not only is a temporal sequence of harvest collection project new for this area, but the sites comprising the sequence (Bluff Field, Finley’s Pond, and South End, Ossabaw Island) are all individually unique, such that results from each site will be valuable in interpretations of their specific histories. An article reporting the results is expected to be finished in June 2023. 

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