In Search of the Perfect Oyster

IMG_5592 As much as I love digging in the hot Florida sun, I am so happy to be back in an air-conditioned, mosquito-free office. And while I won’t be digging for prehistoric artifacts, I will be doing something equally fascinating. Well, at least I think so. For two weeks I’ll be in the NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) and Applied Sciences Division of SEAC. Our current project involves measuring and analyzing oyster shells excavated from two prehistoric shell mounds located along Cape Canaveral National Seashore. Oysters are extremely useful in paleoclimatology (the study of ancient climates) for the environment in which an oyster grows affects its shell and the organisms that grow on it. Levels of salinity, turbidity, and water depth all affect shell formation. Once we measure and analyze the characteristics of archaeological oyster shells, we have an idea of what the environment was like when the mounds were constructed hundreds of years ago. We can then compare that to modern data to see how much the environment has changed. In order to compile accurate data, we measure only “perfect” unbroken oyster shells. And considering that these shells had been in the ground for hundreds of years before being dug up and run through flotation machines, few shells have made it out unscathed. After searching through 3-4 boxes each containing thousands of shells, I end up with only 10 measurable shells and ancient shell dust covering my hands. All in the name of science.

Which one is "perfect"?

Which one is “perfect”?

Next week, after all the shell data is entered into a database, we will then analyze the data to determine what kind of environment these oysters, and the prehistoric peoples of Cape Canaveral, were living in.                          

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