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When Scientists "Discover" What Indigenous People Have Known For Centuries | Science | Smithsonian
"Our knowledge of what animals do when humans aren’t around has steadily increased over the last 50 years. For example, we know now that animals use tools in their daily lives. Chimps use twigs to fish for termites; sea otters break open shellfish on rocks they selected; octopi carry coconut shell halves to later use as shelters. But the latest discovery has taken this assessment to new heights—literally.

A team of researchers led by Mark Bonta and Robert Gosford in northern Australia has documented kites and falcons, colloquially termed “firehawks,” intentionally carrying burning sticks to spread fire. While it has long been known that birds will take advantage of natural fires that cause insects, rodents and reptiles to flee and thus increase feeding opportunities, that they would intercede to spread fire to unburned locales is astounding.

It’s thus no surprise that this study has attracted great attention as it adds intentionality and planning to the repertoire of non-human use of tools. Previous accounts of avian use of fire have been dismissed or at least viewed with some skepticism.

But while new to Western science, the behaviors of the nighthawks have long been known to the Alawa, MalakMalak, Jawoyn and other Indigenous peoples of northern Australia whose ancestors occupied their lands for tens of thousands of years. Unlike most scientific studies, Bonta and Gosford’s team foregrounded their research in traditional Indigenous ecological knowledge. They also note that local awareness of the behavior of the firehawks is ingrained within some of their ceremonial practices, beliefs and creation accounts.

The worldwide attention given to the firehawks article provides an opportunity to explore the double standard that exists concerning the acceptance of Traditional Knowledge by practitioners of Western science.

Traditional Knowledge ranges from medicinal properties of plants and insights into the value of biological diversity to caribou migration patterns and the effects of intentional burning of the landscape to manage particular resources. Today, it’s become a highly valued source of information for archaeologists, ecologists, biologists, ethnobotanists, climatologists and others. For example, some climatology studies have incorporated Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit traditional knowledge) to explain changes in sea ice conditions observed over many generations.

Yet despite the wide acknowledgement of their demonstrated value, many scientists continue to have had an uneasy alliance with Traditional Knowledge and Indigenous oral histories.

On the one hand, these types of knowledge are valued when they support or supplements archaeological, or other scientific evidence. But when the situation is reversed—when Traditional Knowledge is seen to challenge scientific “truths —then its utility is questioned or dismissed as myth. Science is promoted as objective, quantifiable, and the foundation for “real” knowledge creation or evaluation while Traditional Knowledge may be seen as anecdotal, imprecise and unfamiliar in form.

Are Indigenous and Western systems of knowledge categorically antithetical? Or do they offer multiple points of entry into knowledge of the world, past and present?

Ways of Knowing

There are many cases where science and history are catching up with what Indigenous peoples have long known.

For instance, in the past two decades, archaeologists and environmental scientists working in coastal British Columbia have come to recognize evidence of mariculture—the intentional management of marine resources—that pre-dates European settlement. Over the course of thousands of years, the ancestors of the Kwakwaka’wakw and other Indigenous groups there created and maintained what have become known as “clam gardens”—rock-walled, terrace-like constructions that provide ideal habit for butter clams and other edible shellfish.

To the Kwakwaka’wakw, these were known as loxiwey, according to Clan Chief Adam Dick (Kwaxsistalla) who has shared this term and his knowledge of the practice with researchers. As marine ecologist Amy Groesbeck and colleagues have demonstrated, these structures increase shellfish productivity and resource security significantly. This resource management strategy reflects a sophisticated body of ecological understanding and practice that predates modern management systems by millennia.

These published research studies now prove that Indigenous communities knew about mariculture for generations—but Western scientists never asked them about it before. Once tangible remains were detected, it was clear mariculture management was in use for thousands of years. There is a move underway by various Indigenous communities in the region to restore and recreate clam gardens and put them back into use.

A second example demonstrates how Indigenous oral histories correct inaccurate or incomplete historical accounts. There are significant differences between Lakota and Cheyenne accounts of what transpired at the Battle of Greasy Grass (Little Big Horn) in 1876, and the historical accounts that appeared soon after the battle by white commentators.

The Lakota and Cheyenne can be considered more objective than white accounts of the battle that are tainted by Eurocentric bias. The ledger drawings of Red Horse, a Minneconjou Sioux participant in the battle, record precise details such as trooper’s uniforms, the location of wounds on horses, and the distribution of Indian and white casualties.

In 1984, a fire at the battleground revealed military artifacts and human remains that prompted archaeological excavations. What this work revealed was a new, more accurate history of the battle that validated many elements of the Native American oral histories and accompanying pictographs and drawings of the events. However, without the archaeological evidence, many historians gave limited credence to the accounts obtained from the participating Native American warriors.

Hypotheses incorporating traditional knowledge-based information can lead the way toward unanticipated insights. The travels of Glooscap, a major figure in Abenaki oral history and worldview, are found throughout the Mi’kmaw homeland of the Maritime provinces of eastern Canada. As a Transformer, Glooscap created many landscape features. Anthropologist Trudy Sable (Saint Mary’s University) has noted a significant degree of correlation between places named in Mi’kmaw legends and oral histories and recorded archaeological sites.

Opportunities at the Intersection

As ways of knowing, Western and Indigenous Knowledge share several important and fundamental attributes. Both are constantly verified through repetition and verification, inference and prediction, empirical observations and recognition of pattern events.

While some actions leave no physical evidence (e.g. clam cultivation), and some experiments can’t be replicated (e.g. cold fusion), in the case of Indigenous knowledge, the absence of “empirical evidence” can be damning in terms of wider acceptance.

Some types of Indigenous knowledge, however, simply fall outside the realm of prior Western understanding. In contrast to Western knowledge, which tends to be text-based, reductionist, hierarchical and dependent on categorization (putting things into categories), Indigenous science does not strive for a universal set of explanations but is particularistic in orientation and often contextual. This can be a boon to Western science: hypotheses incorporating traditional knowledge-based information can lead the way toward unanticipated insights.

There are partnerships developing worldwide with Indigenous knowledge holders and Western scientists working together. This includes Traditional Ecological Knowledge informing government policies on resource management in some instances. But it is nonetheless problematic when their knowledge, which has been dismissed for so long by so many, becomes a valuable data set or used selectively by academics and others.

To return to the firehawks example, one way to look at this is that the scientists confirmed what the Indigenous peoples have long known about the birds’ use of fire. Or we can say that the Western scientists finally caught up with Traditional Knowledge after several thousand years."

[See also:
"How Western science is finally catching up to Indigenous knowledge: Traditional knowledge has become a highly valued source of information for archaeologists, ecologists, biologists, climatologists and others"

"It’s taken thousands of years, but Western science is finally catching up to Traditional Knowledge" ]
science  indigenous  knowledge  archaeology  ecology  biology  climatology  climate  animals  nature  amygroesbeck  research  clams  butterclams  birds  morethanhuman  multispecies  knowing  scientism  anthropology  categorization  hierarchy  hawks  firehawks  fire  landscape  place  nativeamericans  eurocentricity  battleofgreasygrass  littlebighorn  adamdick  kwaxsistalla  clamgardens  shellfish  stewardship  inuit  australia  us  canada  markbonta  robertgosford  kites  falcons  trudysable  placenames  oralhistory  oralhistories  history  mariculture 
february 2018 by robertogreco
The Loch Ness Monster of Mollusks - The New Yorker
"The last time people thought very seriously about shipworms—people other than shipworm scientists, that is—was likely in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when wooden ships still reigned. A shipworm is in fact not a worm but a clam that looks like a worm and eats wood. The hinged shell of the typical bivalve has been reduced, in the shipworm, to a tiny pair of scrapers at the front end, which the animal uses for burrowing, like the tunnel-boring machines grinding away under Manhattan’s Second Avenue to extend the new subway line.

For tens of millions of years, shipworms were limited in their diet to floating logs and sunken stumps. Eventually dugouts, galleys, schooners, and frigates appeared as a side dish, and shipworms became notorious as the termites of the sea. Pliny and Ovid wrote about shipworms; the Romans coated the hulls of their vessels with tar and pitch as protection. In 1503, shipworm damage sank two of Christopher Columbus’s vessels and ended his fourth and final voyage to the Americas. “My ships were more riddled with holes than a honeycomb,” he wrote. Between 1919 and 1921, the naval shipworm destroyed nearly every wharf, pier, and ferry slip in San Francisco Bay. Shipworms are even thought to have helped the British, in 1588, defeat the Spanish Armada, which may have been severely compromised after spending months moored in the warm, shipworm-friendly harbors of Portugal, Spain, and southern France.

“My freshman microbiology professor liked to say, ‘If it wasn’t for shipworms, we’d be speaking Spanish today,’ ” Daniel Distel, a marine biologist and the director of the Ocean Genome Legacy Center, at Northeastern University, told me recently. Distel is a shipworm scientist, and earlier this week he and an international team of colleagues announced the discovery of live specimens of a five-foot-long shipworm called Kuphus polythalamia. The species is legendary; its existence has been known since the eighteenth century from fossil remains, but living ones have eluded scientists. Unlike other shipworms, Kuphus burrows into mud rather than wood. For protection, the animal builds a thick, chalky casing around itself, called a crypt. In the dissection video that was released with the study, it looks like a dark eel spilling from a long plaster cast.

A century ago, when shipworms were a common scourge, governments around the world paid scientists to study them. But the funding slowed with the advent of metal-hulled ships. “When I began, three decades ago, very few people were left working on shipworms,” Distel said. He spent the early part of his career researching the ghostly creatures that had recently been discovered at the bottom of the sea, around hydrothermal vents—giant clams, giant tube worms. They were able to thrive there, it turned out, because they harbored bacteria that leveraged the energy in hydrogen sulfide to generate nutrients, much as plants use the sun’s energy to turn carbon dioxide into carbohydrates. The vent creatures had internalized agriculture.

Distel wanted to learn more, but deep-sea research requires ships, submarines, and millions of dollars; plus, he said, “it was becoming a crowded field.” He found a more accessible animal in the shipworm. Its dietary staple—cellulose, an essential fibre in plants—is the most abundant biological material on Earth. Though it is loaded with energy, it isn’t easy to break down. Cows, goats, and termites manage the feat only because they carry bacteria in their digestive tracts that can do it for them. But with shipworms, Distel found, the bacteria live inside the animal’s own cells. “If you or I have bacteria in our cells, we’re sick, we need to go to the hospital right away,” he told me. “That’s true for most mammals.” But marine invertebrates, he said, have figured out a way to benefit from infection.

As Distel worked on his research, he kept an eye out for Kuphus, which had gained a reputation as the Loch Ness monster of malacology. “It’s always been obscure,” he said. “Obscure but known.” The hard casts of Kuphus, which can survive for millions of years, had turned up around the world, but the only description of the animal’s soft tissues came from a couple of deteriorating museum specimens from the nineteen-thirties. “I spent twenty years scouring the literature and not finding anything,” Distel said. He caught a lucky break in 2010, while on a project in the Philippines exploring the marine mollusk as a potential source of drug compounds. One day, a Filipino student showed him a news story, in Tagalog, about locals eating shipworms for medicinal reasons. An accompanying video clip showed an enormous organism in a tubular casement: Kuphus. “After all these years, we found it on YouTube,” Distel said. His colleagues collected several specimens from a shallow lagoon, though he would not say precisely where. “Those tubes—shell collectors do find them and sell them, and they get a pretty good price for them,” he said. “I don’t want to see those destroyed.”

Initially, the animal’s appearance was “a little shocking,” Distel said. “When it first came out of the tube, we had no idea what color it would be. Most shipworms are sort of beige, or whitish, maybe slightly pinkish. This thing comes out and it’s jet black, like gunmetal black, almost bluish black.” And the creature was far from delicate. “When we take other shipworms out of wood, eight times out of ten we break them in half,” Distel said. “This thing was a beast—solid, and quite slippery.” (When I asked him whether he had ever eaten shipworm, for health or pleasure, he said no. “I can’t get past all the bacteria that I know are in the environments where these animals live,” he told me. “Eating raw shellfish is hard for a microbiologist. Once, in a restaurant in Costa Rica, I ate a clam that I happened to be working on. I got the worst case of dysentery I’ve ever had in my life.”)

Kuphus’s innards were intriguing. The giant animal barely eats; its mouth, deep in the mud, is capped shut, and its digestive system is tiny, all but atrophied. At its hind end, two gilled siphons emerge into the lagoon like snorkels. The gills teem with sulfur-digesting bacteria, which are related to those found in deep-sea hydrothermal creatures. The bacteria essentially use the energy in swamp gas—the lagoon smells like rotten eggs—to make organic compounds for the shipworm, enough to enable the animal to grow to enormous size. Strangely, though, when Distel and his colleagues performed a genetic analysis of the symbionts, known for now as 2141T, they found that Kuphus acquired them relatively recently. Wood-boring shipworms first appeared on Earth about thirty-five million years ago, having evolved from wood-eating bivalves, which appeared at least a hundred million years ago. Many biologists assumed that Kuphus would be the primitive forerunner of both lines—the mud-dweller from which all others arose. In fact, though, it arose later; wood-eating bivalves came first, and somewhere along the way one acquired the sulfur-oxidizing bacteria.

Distel and his colleagues have a lot to learn about Kuphus, starting with the age of their own specimens. “Are they two years old, or two hundred?” he said. Also, how quickly do they grow? The mouth end of the shipworm’s tube, deep in the mud, is closed off. But Distel suspects that it must open from time to time so that the animal can extend itself and burrow deeper. “We think they grow in fits and starts, kind of like a lobster will shed its shell, form a new one, and grow into it,” Distel said. “But we don’t know for sure.” The team will also continue to look for smaller specimens, to shed light on the animal’s life cycle. Shipworms reproduce in all kinds of ways. Teredo navalis, the naval shipworm, is a protandrous hermaphrodite: it starts out male and turns female. Other species can fertilize themselves, and others still are live breeders, holding their young inside until a good food source is available. Some even have dwarf males, less than a millimetre in size, that stay attached to the females for their entire lives. “They’re sponges,” Distel said, not speaking literally. “They’re parasites that live off the females.”

Maybe more than any other creature, shipworms make plain that, in biology, everything is a vessel. Our bodies, the decaying trunks of trees, the gills of wormlike mollusks, even bacteria carry smaller forms of life somewhere, to do something. “All organisms are sort of like Russian dolls,” Distel said. “There are organisms within organisms; they’re in us and on us. Understanding how we became what we are isn’t just about studying our genes and their ancestry but also studying the bacteria that live along with us.” It’s shipworms all the way down, in other words, and it’s becoming ever harder to tell who is the ship and who is its commander."
mollusks  nature  sfsh  classideas  animals  history  ocean  alanburdick  2017  danieldistel  shipworms  clams  nture 
april 2017 by robertogreco
Study finds ancient clam beaches not so natural - University Communications - Simon Fraser University
"Casting a large interdisciplinary research net has helped Simon Fraser University archaeologist Dana Lepofsky and 10 collaborators dig deeper into their findings about ancient clam gardens in the Pacific Northwest to formulate new perspectives.

Lepofsky’s research team has discovered that Northwest Coast Indigenous people didn’t make their living just by gathering the natural ocean’s bounty. Rather, from Alaska to Washington, they were farmers who cultivated productive clam gardens to ensure abundant and sustainable clam harvests.

In its new paper published by American Antiquity, Lepofsky’s team describes how it isolated novel ways to date the stone terraces that created clam beaches. These beaches are certainly more than 1,000 years old and likely many thousands of years older. The researchers identified many places where people built gardens on bedrock — creating ideal clam habitats where there were none before. This, the researchers concluded, clearly challenges the notion that First Nations were living in wild, untended environments.

“We think that many Indigenous peoples worldwide had some kind of sophisticated marine management, but the Pacific Northwest is likely one of the few places in the world where this can be documented,” says Lepofsky. “This is because our foreshores are more intact than elsewhere and we can work closely with Indigenous knowledge holders.”

The researchers, who worked with First Nations linguistic data, oral traditions and memories, geomorphological surveys, archaeological techniques and ecological experiments, belong to the Clam Garden Network. It’s a coastal group interested in ancient clam management.

“Understanding ancient marine management is relevant to many current issues,” says Lepofsky.

Her team is comparing clam garden productivity to that of modern aquaculture and assessing whether the shell-rich beaches of clam gardens help buffer against increasing ocean acidification. The team will also build experimental clam gardens, applying many of the traditional cultivation techniques learned from First Nations collaborators as a means of increasing food production and food security today.

This latest study is on the heels of one done a year ago by Lepofsky and her collaborators. The original three-year study published in PLOS ONE found that these ancient gardens produced quadruple the number of butter clams and twice the number of littleneck clams as unmodified clam beaches. It was the first study to provide empirical evidence of the productivity of ancient Pacific Northwest clam gardens and their capacity to increase food production.

The Tula Foundation, Parks Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Wenner Gren, among other groups, are funding the team’s studies.

Key highlights of new study:

• Northwest Coast Indigenous peoples from Alaska to Washington State managed clam beaches in a variety of ways. These included replanting of small clams and building rock terrace walls at the low-low tide line to create clam gardens.

• Northwest Coast First Nations language terms indicate clam gardens were built in specific places by rolling the rocks for two purposes. One was to create rock-walled terraces ideal for clam growth. Another was to clear the beaches of unwanted rubble that would limit clam habitat.

• The researchers developed novel ways to date the clam gardens and their preliminary excavations revealed that many date to more than 1,000 years ago.

• Working on these clam gardens posed some logistical challenges since many are only visible for about 72 daylight hours per year.

• Extensive air and ground surveys revealed that clam gardens can be found from Alaska to Washington State, but in some places, such as the Gulf Islands, recent rising sea level obscures the rock walls. In some areas, clam gardens made possible the dense ancient First Nations settlements that dot our coastline.

As Canada's engaged university, SFU is defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research and far-reaching community engagement. SFU was founded almost 50 years ago with a mission to be a different kind of university—to bring an interdisciplinary approach to learning, embrace bold initiatives, and engage with communities near and far. Today, SFU is a leader amongst Canada's comprehensive research universities and is ranked one of the top universities in the world under 50 years of age. With campuses in British Columbia's three largest cities—Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby—SFU has eight faculties, delivers almost 150 programs to over 30,000 students, and boasts more than 130,000 alumni in 130 countries around the world."
britishcolumbia  cascadia  firstnations  nativeamericans  2015  clams  clamming  food  fisheries  clamgadens  washingtonstate  alaska  oceans  danalepofsky 
may 2015 by robertogreco
Science teacher: "Scientists" never said that, experts did
"All the scientists say that the quahogs don't move, they don't go up and down [in the winter when the water is colder]. We claim they do… You have a rake with longer teeth, you catch 'em. With shorter teeth, you don't." —Howard Drew, Bayman

"We confuse experts with scientists.
We confuse the process of science with its results.

A child with a decent grasp of science knows less of a bigger world, and that's the point.
No expert ever made a living by claiming ignorance, but pleading ignorance is what scientists do.

It's hard to test ignorance when "knowledge" is the point, and it's hard to teach science when standardized tests focus on this-thing-we-do-in school-we-call-science."

"Every field has charlatans, and right now the charlatans are winning.

Me? I'm teaching science while I can, and clamming when I can.

The flats feed me, literally and metaphorically.
Experts do neither."
michaeldoyle  quahogs  clamming  clams  knowledge  ignorance  standardizedtesting  standardization  commoncore  resutls  process  howarddrew  charlatans  learning  teaching  science  2012  robertmarzano  howardgardner 
december 2012 by robertogreco

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