March 18, 2006

Smallpox: a bird's best friend?

When the first white pioneers settled California in the early 1800s, they found the San Francisco Bay area teeming with geese, ducks, shore birds, deer and elk. One early settler said “The wild geese and every species of water fowl darkened the surface of every bay…in flocks of millions.”
That didn't last long, of course. But wait!
A painstaking California archeologist has now blown the Indian conservation legend into tiny fragments. Over seven years, he analyzed 5,700 bird bones from a huge Indian shell/waste mound on the shores of San Francisco Bay. The bones laid out a 1900-year history of the Indians’ bird hunting. They’d hunted dozens of wild bird species to local extinction, starting with the biggest geese and working their way clear down to tiny sandpipers. . .

The early European settlers found birds in abundance, says Broughton, only because Spanish explorers had inadvertently brought such epidemic diseases as smallpox and measles, starting about 1500 AD. The shell mound shows that the Indian population crashed by 90 percent, and the Bay area bird populations then recovered.

Full article here.

Posted by David on March 18, 2006 4:24 PM

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