10 April 2011

Everglades tree islands: an archaeological biodiversity

Florida's Everglades, a huge wetland in the southern part of the state, are dotted with small 'tree islands' that stand slightly above the wetlands, allowing trees and shrubs to grow. These islands provide a dry refuge for birds, alligators, and small mammals and are an integral part of the biodiversity found in the Everglades region.
Photo J. Kleen (USFWS)
But these 'tree islands' are actually... trash piles. (Or middens, as archaeologists say). Under the trees and layers of calcium deposit, archaeologists have found ancient trash pits made up of bones, broken pots, discarded tools, and other waste. About 5,000 years ago the Everglades were more a grassland than a wetland, and easier for people to live in. As the water table rose over the centuries, people used the land less but the trash piles they left provided dry places for trees and shrubs that were being forced out by the rising water. Read the article at New Scientist, or the press release from the American Geophysical Union.

Photo Rita Robinson
What super cool news. Archaeopop has explored nature, culture, and climate change a bit recently (see here and here). This news from Florida is more evidence that human activities that are good for biodiversity if they're done right - and that the distinction between nature and culture is an illusion that does us more harm than good. The real environmental question is not 'why are people so evil to the earth?' but 'what kind of human activities are good for biodiversity, and how do we structure our economies to make it happen?'

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