National Science Foundation Fellow Kit Hamley discuses her research on the origins of the extinct warrah in the Falkland Islands.
I’ve always been broadly interested in how humans have interacted with their environment over time. I’m looking at a time period, not just focused on the last couple of hundred years, but over thousands and thousands of years.
Currently, I’m working on a project in the Falkland Islands, that’s looking at an extinct species of fox that was only found in the Falklands. My big question is how that fox got there. The Falklands lie about 300 miles off of the very south‑eastern tip of South America. My hypothesis is that humans brought them via canoe from South America, at some point before Europeans had arrived in the Falklands.
Because there aren’t any archaeological sites in the Falklands, this gets a little bit tricky and that’s the big thing. It’s that I’m the first person to really go out and actually try to track down whether or not humans were there.
We found six heaping piles of bones. We found sea lion bones, penguin bones, and fur seal bones, all in heaps, which wouldn’t really happen if you think about it naturally. There are very few things that could cause that to happen naturally.
We’re pretty sure that it is a human site, and so now we just have to — through radiocarbon dating — we basically can figure out exactly how old those bone piles are.
This research is really important for a number of reasons. The big thing is really it will contribute greatly to the understanding of both the natural and human history of the Falklands. Currently, the Falklands are a relatively understudied area, a region of the world, and they’re undergoing all kinds of changes.
As sea level is rising, we’re losing a lot of shoreline in the Falklands. There is increased ecotourism, and so there are a lot of changes. Studying it now, before these changes are really dramatic, is really important, and for any place having an understanding of the human history is vastly important.