Monday, February 13, 2006

Ugly, Ugly Irony

An interesting post on why California was so astonishingly verdant when early European settlers arrived:
When explorers and pioneers visited California in the 1700s and early 1800s, they were astonished by the abundance of birds, elk, deer, marine mammals, and other wildlife they encountered. Since then, people assumed such faunal wealth represented California's natural condition – a product of Native Americans' living in harmony with the wildlife and the land and used it as the baseline for measuring modern environmental damage.

That assumption now is collapsing because University of Utah archaeologist Jack M. Broughton spent seven years – from 1997 to 2004 – painstakingly picking through 5,736 bird bones found in an ancient Native American garbage dump on the shores of San Francisco Bay. He determined the species of every bone, or, when that wasn't possible, at least the family, and used the bones to reconstruct a portrait of human bird-hunting behavior spanning 1,900 years....

Broughton concluded that California wasn't always a lush Eden before settlers arrived. Instead, from 2,600 to at least 700 years ago, native people hunted some species to local extinction...
Wow. So what, you ask, caused the wildlife of California to explode? Well, it turns out it was mankind's favourite invasive species - itself:
...wildlife returned to "fabulous abundances" only after European diseases decimated Indian populations starting in the 1500s.
Eeew. I feel dirty.

1 comment:

Cyrus said...

I've actually read about something like this. "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond - an anthropology/world history book that, to my admittedly non-expert eye, is the best explanation yet for why some cultures did (do) so well and others did (do) not.

Among other things, he explains that large mammals throughout Africa, Europe and Asia were exposed to humans at all points in our development, so we sort of evolved in parallel. They had the chance to become domesticated, learn when and how to fight humans, or both. But humans first came to the Americas about 20,000 years ago or so, very roughly, and by that point we were already walking upright and using tools and everything. So the ancestors of Indians very quickly hunted ground sloths and American camels to extinction.