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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Chesapeake Bay is one of the world's great estuaries and an iconic part of American cultural and ecological landscapes. Formed by rising post-glacial seas, the Chesapeake is an intricate ecological web with rich marine and terrestrial life that have been a focus of human subsistence for millennia. Although many of the bay's ecosystems and fisheries have collapsed or are near collapse, interest in restoring the bay is a source of national pride for many and scores of biologists, ecologists, and restoration managers are working to curb the rapid and increasing threats to bay ecosystems and organisms, including its commercial and recreational fisheries. What is the baseline for these restoration efforts? Despite decades of ecological research, significant questions remain about how the Chesapeake's aquatic ecosystems were structured and functioned in the more distant past. Our interdisciplinary research integrates archaeology and ecology by investigating Native American interactions with Chesapeake Bay during the Holocene. Through analysis of Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica), other animal remains, artifacts, and stable isotopes from archaeological sites throughout the Chesapeake we have initiated an interdisciplinary project focused on two interrelated research questions: 1) To what extent and in what ways did natural changes in salinity, nutrient load, and other variables influence where and when Native Americans settled and harvested Chesapeake resources; and 2) How significant of an impact and influence over time did Native American harvesting patterns have on oysters and other Chesapeake resources? This project is funded by the National Geographic Society and Smithsonian Institution and is a collaboration between researchers at the NMNH, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and Johns Hopkins University.

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