Identifying natural and anthropogenic drivers of prehistoric fire regimes through simulated charcoal records

Publication date: July 2018Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 95
Author(s): Grant Snitker
Archaeological and paleoecological studies demonstrate that human-caused fires have long-term influences on terrestrial and atmospheric systems, including the transformation of “wild” landscapes into managed, agricultural landscapes. Sedimentary charcoal accumulations alone provide only limited information about the influence of human-caused fires on long-term fire regimes. Computational modeling offers a new approach to anthropogenic fire that links social and biophysical processes in a “virtual laboratory” where long-term scenarios can be simulated and compared with empirical charcoal data. This paper presents CharRec, a computational model of landscape fire, charcoal dispersion, and deposition that simulates charcoal records formed by multiple natural and anthropogenic fire regimes. CharRec is applied to a case study in the Canal de Navarrés region in eastern Spain to reveal the role of human-driven fire regimes during the early and middle Holocene. A statistical comparison of simulated charcoal records and empirical charcoal data from the Canal de Navarrés indicates that anthropogenic burning, following the Neolithic transition to agro-pastoral subsistence, was a primary driver of fire activity during the middle Holocene.