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Ancient Dumps Are Fertile Ground for Wildflowers and Archeologists


Scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center are studying Native American trash heaps full of oyster shells around the Chesapeake Bay that date to thousands of years ago.

Susan Cook-Patton, Torben Rick and colleagues recently published an article in the journal Landscape Ecology that describes how these old oyster shells enrich the soil with calcium, nitrogen and phosphorus, spurring the growth of unusual communities of wildflowers and grasses.

The scientists examined 10 of ancient dump sites in a forested area near the Rhode River,  in Edgewater, south of Annapolis, with the oldest formed 3,250 years ago.

They found that native wildflowers,  including saltmarsh mallow and Jack-in-the-pulpit, grow in more abundance on top of former Native American trash heaps than they do in the woods surrounding them.