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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Environmental Archeology---Who knew?

Author: Guest Writer/Tuesday, December 18, 2012/Categories: Uncategorized

Typically, we think of archeologists piecing together broken pots, digging up ancient buildings, and trying to decipher strange hieroglyphics. Who would have thought that environmental destruction could also be uncovered by a dig or recovered object. In a research situation where ‘connecting the dots’ required the skills of a Sherlock Holmes, investigators have determined that a trident shaped spear collected in the Gilbert Islands tells the story of reef bio-diversity.

For centuries, the people of the Gilbert Islands in the central Pacific Ocean made weapons using sharks teeth. A sharp-toothed spear sitting in museum files in Chicago was recently rediscovered and analyzed. Joshua Drew, a biologist at Columbia University, analyzed the teeth and showed that the Island's reefs were once home to species like the Spottail Shark that no longer exist there. Drawing upon the artifact at the Field Museum in Chicago, first collected over 100 years ago, the impressive impressive findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America. 

Drew commented that the artifact showed: “Three shark species disappeared from these reefs before we even knew that they existed there.” The results and summary were published on “this shadow biodiversity” in Nature Magazine.

sharks-teeth-artifact       Carcharhinus-obscurus-spottail-shark

Gilbert Island Sharks-tooth Trident                Spottail Shark

(credit: Field Museum, Chicago)                    (credit: Wikipedia)

It is not certain why the three shark species, which aren’t extinct elsewhere, disappeared from the Gilbert Island’s reefs, but overfishing could be involved. The depletion of sharks around the world, slaughtered for their fins used in an expensive soup in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, may have played an important role.

Observant archeologists may have a real role to play in solving other ecological riddles. Who knew?



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