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Atoka County

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Atoka County, Oklahoma

Ferndale Bog

Aerial photo showing Ferndale Bog

Aerial photo of upper and lower sections of the Ferndale Bog

Studies of past environments help archeologists understand the factors influencing how people lived in the past. One method available to archaeologists to help them understand past environment is the science of palynology, the study of ancient pollens.

Pollen, the same stuff that causes us to sneeze in the spring and fall, is amazingly persistent in the environment. It has a hard outer shell that preserves well in a wet environment (like a lake bottom) or in an acidic environment (like a peat bog). Different species of plants produce uniquely-shaped pollens that scientists have learned to identify microscopically. As wind-borne pollen settles in a lake or peat bog, it becomes part of the sediment, and, undisturbed, leaves a record, sometimes thousands of years long, of the kinds of plants that have grown in the area. While peat bogs may seem an unlikely feature of the Oklahoma landscape, Atoka County is home to one known as Ferndale Bog.

The Ferndale Bog formed over thousands of years as sphagnum moss growing in the vicinity of a spring on a sandstone ridge of the Ouachita Mountains decayed and was replaced by new generations of peat. Archaeologists have done two studies on the pollens found in the Ferndale Bog sediments. These studies rely on microscopic examination of sediment cores taken from the bog. They reveal 12,000 years of climate change in southeastern Oklahoma. The deepest sample, taken over 10 1/2 feet below today's surface contains pine pollen and pollen from white spruce, a tree found today in Canada and the far northern United States. Twelve thousand years ago the world was coming to the end of the last glaciation and Oklahoma's climate, as revealed by the presence of spruce pollen, was probably cooler and moister. As the climate warmed and dried, the environment around Ferndale Bog became dominated mostly by grasses until it likely became a tall-grass prairie area. However, during the period 9,000 to 5,400 year ago, the actual amount of pollen deposited in the bog falls to its lowest levels. This is interpreted as more evidence for a dramatic drought that lasted for thousands of years and probably turned parts of Oklahoma into a desert. Gradually, the climate seems to have changed so that more moisture became available to plants, and the oak-pine-hickory forests we see today developed, perhaps as late as 1,000 years ago.

Today the Ferndale bog is protected in the McGee Creek Natural Scenic Recreation Area.

Microscopic image of ancient pine pollen

Ancient pine pollen from Ferndale Bog

Ferndale bog flower

Flower photographed at Ferndale Bog

For further reading:

Ferndale Bog and Natural Lake: Five Thousand Years of Environmental Change in Southeastern Oklahoma, L.E. Albert, Oklahoma Archeological Survey, Studies in Oklahoma's Past, Number 7, 1981.

Past Environments and Prehistory at McGee Creek Reservoir, Atoka County, Oklahoma, C. Reid Ferring, Vol. V, Part 4 of the McGee Creek Archaeological Project Reports, University of North Texas, Institute of Applied Sciences, 1994.

Number of Prehistoric Sites in Atoka County Identified to Time Period

Chart of prehistoric sites



Paleo = ?-8,000 BP / Archaic = 8,000-2,000 BP / Woodland = 2,000-1,000 BP / Village 1000-500 BP
BP (before present)


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