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Eat oysters only in months with "g"? Rule of thumb of at least 4,000 years

Eat oysters only in months with "g"? Rule of thumb of at least 4,000 years

Impressed with a single odor, Boonea impressiona is a tiny sea snail that parasitizes on oysters, sitting on top and piercing their shells and sucking their insides. Because snails have a predictable 12-month life cycle, their length can record the time of death of their oyster host, which allows researchers to date the ancient prey of oysters. Courtesy: Kristen Grace / Museum of Florida.

The gourmet tradition prescribes to eat wild oysters only in the months with the letter “r” – from September to April – to avoid watery mollusks or, even worse, an unpleasant attack of food poisoning. Now a new study suggests that people have followed this practice for at least 4,000 years.

An analysis of a large ring of shells off the coast of Georgia showed that the ancient inhabitants of St. Catherine Island limited oyster production to summer months.

How can scientists know when the islanders collected oysters? By measuring parasitic snails.

Snails, known as impressed odostomas, Boonea impressa, are common oyster parasites, fixing themselves on the sink and inserting a stylus to muffle soft guts. Because the snail has a predictable 12-month life cycle, its length at the time of death provides a reliable estimate of when the oyster owner died, allowing researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History Nicole Cannarozzi and Michalu Kowalewski to use it as tiny seasonal hours when people gathered and ate oysters in the past.

Shelters on discarded oyster shells, snails offer a new understanding of the old question of shell rings that dot the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and the Mississippi.

“People have been discussing the purpose of these shells for a very long time,” said Cannarozzi, lead author of the study and manager of the Ecological Archeology Collection at the Florida Museum. “Were they daily heaps of food waste? Temporary communal revels? Or maybe a combination? Understanding the seasonality of rings sheds new light on their function. ”

Eat oysters only in months with "g"? Rule of thumb of at least 4,000 years

Seasonality of oyster deposits in the shell of St. Catherine may be one of the earliest records of sustainable harvesting, said Nicole Cannarozzi, lead author of the study and collection manager of the Ecological Archeology Museum of Florida. Courtesy: Kristen Grace / Museum of Florida.

Cannarozzi and Kowalewski, chairman of Thompson's Invertebrate Paleontology, analyzed oysters and snails from a 4,300-year-old shell shell 230 feet wide on St. Catherine's Island and compared them to live oysters and snails. They found that the inhabitants of the island mainly collected oysters in late autumn, winter and spring, which also indicated that in the summer people on the island narrowed.

According to Cannarozzi, shell seasonality may be one of the earliest records of sustainable harvesting. Oysters in the southeast spawn from May to October, and preventing the collection of oysters in the summer can help replenish their numbers.

“It's important to see how oysters have lived in the environment over time, especially because they are in a state of decline around the world,” she said. “This type of data can give us good information about their ecology, how other organisms interact with them, the health of oyster populations, and, more generally, the health of coastal ecosystems.”

Cannarozzi said using osteostatized oysters to determine oyster harvesting times per year offers an independent way to evaluate ancient oyster harvesting patterns. This approach can complement other archaeological methods, including the analysis of stable isotopes and the study of growth rings of shells.

Kowalewski said that this method can be applied to other studies of marine invertebrates, if the life cycle of the “timing” organism meets several key requirements.

Eat oysters only in months with "g"? Rule of thumb of at least 4,000 years

This model shows the outline of the shell ring of St. Catherine with darker areas indicating greater density. The ring of the shell of St. Catherine has an average age of 4300 years and a width of 230 feet, which means that it was used as a waste storage. Cannarozzi and Kowalewski's work focuses on gathering evidence at what time of the year these deposits accumulated – or were they used continuously – to track late archaic social models. Courtesy: Matthew Sanger et al. in southeastern archeology

“If you have species with a lifespan of one year or less, stable growth patterns and predictable spawning behavior, you can also use them as watches,” he said. “We could use this type of strategy to restore the dynamics of a population or the natural history of various species, especially those that have become extinct.”

Kannarozzi and Kowalewski emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in resolving long-standing research issues in a new way. Their project combined paleontology, the study of fossils and other biological remains, with archeology that emphasizes the history of mankind. The Cannarozzi specialization – Environmental Archeology – also explores the close ties between people and their natural resources.

“People have influenced the distribution, life cycles, and number of organisms over time,” Cannarozzi said. “Understanding how people in the past interacted with and influenced the environment can be the foundation of our conservation efforts today.”

The researchers published their findings in Plos on,

Grown oysters can protect themselves from acidification

More information:
Nicole R. Cannarozzi et al., Seasonal oyster production recorded in the shell ring of the late archaic period, Plos on (2019). DOI: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0224666

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Florida Museum of Natural History

Eat oysters only in months with "g"? A rule of thumb of at least 4,000 years (2019, November 20)
restored November 20, 2019

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