Eroding Late Holocene Native American oyster midden at low tide in Fishing Bay, Maryland

Torben Rick
May 3, 2022
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Low tide on a bay
Torben Rick

Eroding archaeological site on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Sites like this contain massive quantities of oysters harvested over 1,000 years ago and were key to forming the foundation for this study. The dense accumulation of oysters are all archaeological oysters dated to over a millennia ago, with intact deposits lying underneath the marsh to the right.

A new global study of Indigenous oyster fisheries co-led by Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History anthropologist Torben Rick and Temple University anthropologist and former Smithsonian postdoctoral fellow Leslie Reeder-Myers shows that oyster fisheries were hugely productive and sustainably managed on a massive scale over hundreds and even thousands of years of intensive harvest. The study’s broadest finding was that long before European colonizers arrived, the Indigenous groups in these locations harvested and ate immense quantities of oysters in a manner that did not appear to cause the bivalves’ populations to suffer and crash. 


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