Ancient Canadian Clam Gardens

By: The Scribe on Wednesday, May 29, 2013

clamsNow, that’s a gardening exhibit you won’t see every day… clam gardens?!

But that’s what researchers are calling the ancient food storage system found on Russell Island’s beach in British Columbia. The clam gardens were discovered six years ago, and University of Victoria students are still helping to sift gravel, sand, and shells to figure out the origins and purpose of the gardens.

The clam gardens aren’t gardens in the traditional sense of the word—ie. where you’d find an abundance of plant life—but rather they’re locations where clams are able to grow naturally, abundantly, and where the environment in those locations can be manipulated to increase clam production. Sort of like feeding compost to a backyard garden to help it grow.

It’s thought that the clam gardens are at least 1,000 years old, but possibly older. The gardens look like small fields constructed on the beach at low tide (a necessity!), with rock walls surrounding the locations. The walls would have helped provide a barrier to stop seaweed and predators from getting inside the garden and damaging or disturbing the growing clams.

And just like a backyard gardener does when taking care of his or her plants, whoever tended the clam garden would have needed to till the sand (so to speak) to keep the oxygen flowing.

Who built the clam gardens is another question entirely. A thousand years ago, an aboriginal community lived on the island, so it’s possible that the clams were used for both food and trade—but that said, clam gardens are a new(ish) discovery for Canadian archaeologists, with the first one discovered only as recently as 1995.

Inevitably, there’s still much to be learned about these ancient clam gardens, and it’s possible that there are many more out there still to be discovered.


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