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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Paleolithic Europeans did not burn the vegetation as in SE Asia or Australia

While it seems that in SE Asia and Australia newly arrived H. sapiens extensively used fire to transform the landscape since 60-50,000 years ago, this was not the case in Europe, neither by Neanderthals nor our species.

Anne-Laure Daniau et al., Testing the Hypothesis of Fire Use for Ecosystem Management by Neanderthal and Upper Palaeolithic Modern Human Populations. PLoS ONE, 2010. Open access.


Extensive use of fire for ecosystem management was probably a component of the technical package of Modern Humans during their colonisation of Southeast Asia. Our study shows that fire regimes in Western Europe between 70 ka and 10 ka were mainly driven by the D-O millennial-scale climatic variability and its impacts on fuel load. At a macro level at least, the colonisation of Western Europe by Anatomically Modern Humans did not have a detectable impact on fire regimes. This, however, does not mean that Neanderthals and/or Modern Humans did not use fire for ecosystem management but rather that, if this were indeed the case, the impact on the environment of fire use is not detectable in our records, and was certainly not as pronounced as it was in the biomass burning history of Southeast Asia.

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