A team of scientists with Simon Fraser University has discovered that ancient coastal Indigenous people were more than hunter-gatherers. Archaeologist Dana Leprofsky and 10 collaborators have discovered that Northwest Coast Indigenous people didn’t only make their living just by gathering the ocean’s bounty. Rather, from Alaska to Washington, they cultivated productive clam gardens to ensure abundant and sustainable harvests.
The team isolated ways to date the stone terraces that created clam beaches. Many thousands of years ago, people built gardens on bedrock, creating clam habitats where there was none before. The research challenges the notion that First Nations were living in wild, untended environments.
“We think that many Indigenous peoples worldwide had some kind of sophisticated marine management, but the Pacific Northwest is likely one of the few places in the world where this can be documented,” said Lepofsky. “This is because our foreshores are more intact than elsewhere and we can work closely with Indigenous knowledge holders.”
Lepofsky’s team is comparing clam garden productivity to that of modern aquaculture and assessing whether the shell-rich beaches of clam gardens help buffer against increasing ocean acidification.
The team will also build experimental clam gardens, applying many of the traditional cultivation techniques learned from First Nations collaborators as a means of increasing food production and food security today.