Historical Ecology of the Albemarle Sound

Historical Ecology

Historical ecology is an applied research program that focuses on the intermingling of people and the environments in which they live. Research applications involve studying and understanding this relationship in both time and space in order to gain a full picture of all of its accumulated effects. Through this interaction humans manipulate the environment and further the transformation of landscapes. The research program can be applied to understanding changes among community landscapes from the past to the present that can assist strategies for the future.

Historical Ecology studies human culture and the environment in various scales, that is, from the specific to the general. Culture and environments are in constant dialogue. Rather than linear change, people and environments influence and respond to one another in continuous cycles. Examining variations within ecosystems and their continual complexity is more possible to study with advanced technologies.

The complexity can be examined, not just by archaeologists, historians and environmental scientists but with an interdisciplinary team. Having a diverse and integrated team, which will share information, allows for more complex interactions of culture and the environment to be examined and considered for future applications.

It is this research program, which the team of the Historical Ecology of Albemarle Sound, is pursuing with its projects, education efforts and public outreaches. The region consists of changing landscapes with waterways, wetlands and watersheds that are part of the Pasquotank River Basin and the Roanoke River in Northeast North Carolina. The Albemarle Sound has had over 400 years as a living history community. From the military expeditions to seek resources and the Roanoke Colony, the explorations of the English encountered a challenging wetland environment and began interactions with the Algonquians who resided in the vicinity.

It was at this intersection of five waterways with the Atlantic Ocean, where the English and American settlements contributed to the changing landscapes, already extant from the local tribes. This community relied on watersheds, as port towns, and continued the traditions of the tribes as fishermen, traders and farmers. And it is this unique wetland and waterway environment that enabled the indigenous population to remain in their homelands and slave runaways to seek refuge and routes to freedom.


Current Research

Historical Ecology Perspectives of Refuges and Routes from Runaway Slave Advertisements

Maritime skills and watersheds were the context for slaves realizing potential freedom. Refuges and escape routes were provided by the maritime slaves, who learned about networks that could assist. From historical records, they got training about the watersheds from relations with Indians. Runaway slave ads in the Albemarle Sound newspapers are being studied for geographic contexts of how the watersheds were used. As an example, the Pasquotank Watershed is being investigated. Geospatial technologies can compare historical maps, remote sensing images and soil data with locations from the slave ads. It is hypothesized that these comparisons can locate refuges and routes, that refuges were resourceful communities among the Indians and were locations for opportunities of interaction. Sites will be selected for field surveys based on soil, vegetation, and elevation criteria (e.g., sandy loam, mesic mixed hardwood forests, ridges), which are habitable, among the vast wetlands of the Albemarle Sound.

This project is a collaboration of ARIES with the University of Maryland, College Park, the Department of Anthropology. Project Directors: Anne Garland (ARIES ) and Paul Shackel (UM)

Contact Project Directors at ariesnonprofit@yahoo.
Outreach and Education

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Dismal Swamp
Dismal Swamp
Headwaters of the Pasquotank River
Headwaters of the Pasquotank River
Albemarle Sound, Mouzon Map 1775
Albemarle Sound, Mouzon Map 1775
North Carolina, Mouzon Map 1775
North Carolina, Mouzon Map 1775

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