Sediment, bottlenecks, & the challenges of isolation

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach pre-teens about ancient civilizations. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.


The novella I'm working on takes place on an island and I've been trying to work out some of the worldbuilding for it. The whole time I was doing the research I couldn't get Michener's Chesapeake out of my head. I had to read it in school because it covers the Chesapeake Bay region in exhaustive detail.

Quick Facts

  • Sighting land is easier from land than while at sea thanks to haze, light reflection, clouds, and lower height.
  • Panama was originally a series of volcanic islands, until they caught enough sediment to form the current isthmus.
  • The island of New Guinea is one of a handful of places where agriculture was invented from scratch.
  • People in the Indus Valley Civilization (around 2500 BCE) built human-made islands to raise their cities above possible floodwaters.
  • Even though Polynesian islands ostensibly had similar language and culture and even official political structures, the reality of who had power varied wildly from island to island.


It's kind of surprising how often people import wild game onto islands when they move there. John Bordley imported hare and partridge from England to Pooles Island in 1771. People imported fallow deer and foxes to Cyprus when they first settled there. And of course Australia is famous for all the environmental problems imported animals have caused.


In the Aegean Sea, early villages overlooked bays and prioritized fresh water sources. It wasn't until the 3500s BCE that people shifted from relying on coastal fishing to farming grains and goats. Homesteads tended to be small, rugged, and tucked away onto microenvironments. (Source)


In Polynesia, "empires" were spread out over incredible distances. Thanks to strategic marriages and a brisk trade in prestige goods like sandalwood, canoes, and pottery, the society around the Tonga capital of Tongatapu was remarkably stable. Royal power depended on knowledge of the surrounding waters and a strong navy. (Source)


The island of Pingelap suffered a population bottleneck in 1775 following a typhoon that had reduced the population to only 20 people. As a result, about 10% of the population there is completely color-blind. 30% of the population carries recessive traits for the condition, which is called "complete achromatopsia."

If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy the previous edition on settlements.


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