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.
Ancient pine pollen from Ferndale
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