Research on clam management began millennia ago. Over countless generations, coastal Indigenous Peoples made observations about clam and intertidal ecology. This traditional ecological knowledge included understanding cyclical natural processes such the seasonal tides and weather patterns, but also the effects of extreme events such as severe storms or dieback through extreme heat or cold or even disease. It also included understanding the effects of human harvesting. Through a process of trial and error and careful observations – all the attributes of careful science – Indigenous Peoples developed methods for increasing the productivity and availability of clams, including tending in clam gardens. 

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Keith Holmes

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Keith Holmes

Western scientific understandings of clam gardens are only very recent additions to this long history of clam garden research. In the mid-1990’s, researchers like geomorphologist John Harper, historian Judith Williams, and ethnoecologist Douglas Deur, began researching clam gardens. Their explorations were very much augmented and helped along by traditional and local knowledge holders as well as previously recorded ethnographic information.

It was through these conversations that other people up and down the coast started exploring clam gardens in the early 2000’s. It was not until 2012 that the various researchers from academic and non-academic communities already doing clam garden research came together to explore the many aspects of clam gardens. After that time, clam garden explorations burgeoned. This previous and on-going work includes the ground-breaking research by Hul’q’umi’num’ and W̱SÁNEĆ Coast Salish communities, Parks Canada, and university researchers in the Gulf Islands, explorations on Quadra Island in Northern Coast Salish and Laich-kwil-tach territory, and in Heiltsuk territory on the central coast.

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Marco Hatch

Clam gardens have also captured the interest of the scientific community as well as the broader public thanks largely to the publication of Judith William’s popular book Clam Gardens and the film Ancient Sea Gardens. The film chronicles surveys by John Harper (coastal geomorphologist) and Mary Morris (marine biologist) and their work with local knowledge holders, Clan Chief Adam Dick, and Dr. Daisy Sewid-Smith. These accounts, along with emerging research by Network members, continue to excite the public in ways not often realized for other archaeological sites on the Northwest Coast. Clam gardens have much to teach us all about the past, present, and future.

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