Thursday, December 29, 2005


Scientists discover evidence of ancient forest in Nantucket Sound


December 27, 2005

Scientists who have found evidence of an ancient forest buried under six feet of mud in Nantucket Sound say the discovery could help answer questions about early people in North America.

The findings, made two years ago while scientists were mapping a proposed wind farm, include a piece of birch wood, yellowish green grass, soil and insect parts, and appear to make up a forest floor that lined the coastline 5,500 years ago, reported The Boston Sunday Globe.

"We've been arguing for years whether there are remnant prehistoric landscapes out there and now we know they can exist," said Victor Mastone, director and chief archaeologist of the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources.

Mastone said this means there is the potential of going after "the big theory of how did people get here and how they lived."

Archaeologists have long believed that the first humans came to North America about 12,000 years ago by way of a land bridge from Siberia to Alaska.

But some scientists believe people may have migrated on a coastal route to get from Russia to the Pacific Coast or from Europe to North America. There's little evidence to support this hypothesis, however, because most of the prehistoric shoreline is under water. The discovery of an intact cultural site could provide evidence of tools or food gathering and help settle the debate.

"That's why the Nantucket Sound site is important," said David Robinson, an archaeologist with The Public Archaeology Laboratory Inc. in Pawtucket, R.I., who discovered the site.

"It provides evidence to say these land forms can survive," he told the newspaper.Robinson said he isn't sure when he'll study the Nantucket Sound site further. The area is difficult to navigate and there is no money for surveying. He hopes to one day take a magnetic sensor over potential areas.

Cape Wind Associates, which has proposed the 130-turbine wind farm, redesigned the project this year to avoid the discovered area.


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