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Jamestown settlers' trash confirms hard times

Analyses of discarded oyster shells chronicle deep drought during Virginia colony’s early years

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2:42pm, May 31, 2010

Oyster shells excavated from a well in Jamestown, Va., the first permanent British settlement in North America, bolster the notion that the first colonists suffered an unusually deep and long-lasting drought.

The shells reveal that water in the James River near the colony, where many of those oysters were harvested, was much saltier than along that stretch of the estuary today, says Howard Spero, a geochemist at the University of California, Davis. For the water to have been so brackish, river flow must have been slacker compared to today, a sign that precipitation was dramatically lower when those oysters were growing. Spero and his colleagues

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