Rick’s research focuses on the archaeology and historical ecology of coastal and island peoples, especially on the North American Pacific and Atlantic Coasts. He has active field projects on California’s Channel Islands and the Chesapeake Bay, which are collaborative with researchers from a variety of disciplines (anthropology, biology, ecology, etc.) and focus on ancient and modern human environmental interactions.
Humans have been modifying the environment for tens of thousands of years. One of the key ways that ancient people influenced past ecosystems and organisms was through the introduction and movement of non-native species (wild and domestic) to new places. These ancient introductions of various animals and plants are particularly noticeable on islands. Our recent archaeological research on California’s Channel Islands is investigating the role of Native Americans in introducing mammals to the islands or moving them between islands. Through a combination of ancient DNA analysis (in collaboration with Jesus Maldonado at the National Zoological Park and Courtney Hofman at University of Maryland), morphometric analysis, stable isotope analysis, and direct AMS 14C dating of bones we are investigating the relationships between ancient peoples and the island fox (Urocyon littoralis), island deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus), and domestic dogs (Canis familiaris). While dogs were unequivocally introduced to the Channel Islands by people over 7000 years ago, our work also supports the hypothesis that Native Americans also introduced or, at the very least, moved islands foxes and deer mice between islands. Our ongoing work seeks to understand these relationships across space and through time.