Testing the Hypothesis of Fire Use for Ecosystem Management by Neanderthal and Upper Palaeolithic Modern Human Populations

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Neanderthal Reconstruction - Public Domain image originally by Ökologix

As a change of pace from looking at the effects of modern society on the ecosystems upon which we depend, we would like to highlight an article that addresses how our ancestors may have managed their environment.  Anne-Laure Daniau, Maria Fernanda Sánchez Goñi (Université Bordeaux 1) and Francesco d’Errico (Institute for Human Evolution, University of the Witwatersrand) have published an interesting article titled „Testing the Hypothesis of Fire Use for Ecosystem Management by Neanderthal and Upper Palaeolithic Modern Human Populations.“

It has been proposed that a greater control and more extensive use of fire was one of the behavioral innovations that emerged in Africa among early Modern Humans, favouring their spread throughout the world and determining their eventual evolutionary success. We would expect, if extensive fire use for ecosystem management were a component of the modern human technical and cognitive package, as suggested for Australia, to find major disturbances in the natural biomass burning variability associated with the colonisation of Europe by Modern Humans.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Analyses of microcharcoal preserved in two deep-sea cores located off Iberia and France were used to reconstruct changes in biomass burning between 70 and 10 kyr cal BP. Results indicate that fire regime follows the Dansgaard-Oeschger climatic variability and its impacts on fuel load. No major disturbance in natural fire regime variability is observed at the time of the arrival of Modern Humans in Europe or during the remainder of the Upper Palaeolithic (40–10 kyr cal BP).

Conclusions/Significance

Results indicate that either Neanderthals and Modern humans did not influence fire regime or that, if they did, their respective influence was comparable at a regional scale, and not as pronounced as that observed in the biomass burning history of Southeast Asia.

Read the full paper here in PDF format.

Citation: Daniau A-L, d’Errico F, Sánchez Goñi MF (2010) Testing the Hypothesis of Fire Use for Ecosystem Management by Neanderthal and Upper Palaeolithic Modern Human Populations. PLoS ONE 5(2): e9157. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009157

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