The Role of Fire in Long Term Human Nitch Construction

Project: Research project

Project Details


The Role of Fire in Long Term Human Nitch Construction Doctoral Dissertation Research: Anthropogenic Fire and the Origins of Agricultural Landscapes: Human Niche Construction during the Neolithic (7,7004,500 cal. BP) in Eastern Spain Archaeological and paleoecological analyses demonstrate that human-caused fires have long-term influences on global terrestrial and atmospheric systems (Guyette et al 2002; Pyne 2013; Pyne and Goldammer 1997). For millennia, humans have intentionally set fires to transform the arrangement or diversity of resources within their landscape (Bird et al. 2008; Bowman et al. 2011; Bovin et al 2016; Pyne 2000). Globally, prehistoric transitions to agriculture often coincide with increases in fire frequency and changes in vegetation community composition and distribution (Bond and Keeley 2005; Bowman et al. 2009; Santana et al. 2014). Although this phenomenon is commonly identified in paleoecological studies, archaeological research has not fully incorporated the spatial and temporal dimensions of anthropogenic fire into discussions of the development of agricultural landscapes (Colombaroli et al. 2008; Roos 2008; Turner and Roberts 2010; Vanniere et al. 2011).The proposed research will incorporate anthropogenic burning into traditional archaeological measures of agricultural land-use to investigate the origins and evolution of Neolithic (7,7004,500 cal. BP) agricultural landscapes in the western Mediterranean. This project draws on multiple methods from an off-site archaeological perspective, which includes sampling sedimentary paleoecological data and measuring archaeological evidence of Neolithic land-use across multiple study areas in eastern Spain. These data will be used to test spatially explicit models of human niche construction through time. Intellectual Merit The results of this research will make several key contributions to the archaeological and paleoecological literature concerning long-term human interactions with environments. From a theoretical perspective, placing anthropogenic fire in the context of human niche construction emphasizes the recursive relationship between social and ecological systems. Examining anthropogenic fire during the Neolithic period in three case from eastern Spain will highlight the influence fire histories have on long-term social and ecological trajectories. Broader Impacts This project will encourage international collaboration between archaeologists and fire scientists with implications for management of fire-prone forest ecosystems both in Spain and the United States. All fieldwork for this project will be conducted in collaboration with both American and Spanish archaeologists, paleoecologists, and fire scientists. This project will draw on a diverse, international team to incorporate multiple perspectives on the role of anthropogenic fire in forest ecosystem function, maintenance, and resilience.
Effective start/end date12/1/1612/31/18


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $28,861.00


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