Can ancient “clam gardens” teach us how to farm better today?

From Modern Farmer: Can ancient “clam gardens” teach us how to farm better today?

The usual archaeological/anthropological view of First Nations peoples (that’s the Canadian version of the term American Indian) in British Columbia is that they were hunter-gatherers, getting what they needed from the land and sea without adopting agricultural practices. But a series of studies from Simon Fraser University is challenging that idea: the team, led by archaeologist Dana Lepofsky, has found and dated “clam gardens” from thousands of years ago, and these early shellfish farms turn out to be anything but simple.

“Of course, First Nations knew they were there all along,” said Lepofsky in an email. “In fact, my friend Clan Chief Adam Dick/Kwaksistalla told anthropologist Doug Deur about them ages ago, but Doug, not being an archaeologist, assumed all western scientists already knew about them. Nope.”

The clam gardens were constructed as a series of stone terraces on specific parts of the shore to protect them from the sea, basically making calmer pools where clams can grow more safely and easily. The key is to alter the slope of the soft-bottomed beach as it stretches out to sea—if you can make it a relatively flat surface, the clams will grow much more quickly. In a study last year, the team built clam gardens as similar as possible to the remnants of the ones they found. The researchers found that the output of littleneck clams nearly doubles and the volume of butter clams actually quadruples over the amount harvested from unmodified clam beaches. The new study found evidence that these indigenous people were replanting baby clams in pretty much the exact same way that modern farmers grow clams today. These weren’t accidental pools; these were farms. [continue]

Link to this story found in the weekly link love post at Mark’s Daily Apple.

7 thoughts on “Can ancient “clam gardens” teach us how to farm better today?

    • Marja-Leena, you and I seem to have an awful lot in common! I read Northwest Coast Archaeology regularly, and wish that Quentin would post more often than he does.

      There are some amazing recipes on Mark’s Daily Apple, and lots of other good resources, too. I’ve learned a lot from the posts there.

  1. This reminds me of the ingenious methods Indigenous Australians employed to catch fish. They constructed stone fish “traps” and herded the hapless fish into these confined areas, making it quite simple to spear or simply pick up the cornered prey. The following links have more details:


    • Perfect; thanks. Links as plain text seem fine. I’ll go disable a possibly-problematic plugin and see if that sorts things out for links with HTML tags.

  2. Pingback: Elsewhere for February 5, 2017 | Floccinaucical

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