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3.8 Managed Human Ecosystems

There is growing scientific evidence that at a very early period humans manipulated vegetation to attract game and improve food-gathering possibilities. In Europe as early as the Acheulian Period (250,000 yr BP) and later during the upper Paleolithic Period (80,000-25,000 yr BP), fire was used to drive game and enhance vegetation quality. Some forests were deliberately cleared, as indicated by pollen analysis, from various locations in England. Clearing forests produced fresh enriched and palatable sprouts attractive to many wildlife species (Champion and others 1984, Kurten 1972). Clearing forest favored plants that require more sunlight, such as species that produce fruit. These plants were likely to be trees that produce nuts (oaks) or plants that produce soft fruit such as raspberry. The clearings not only attracted wildlife, which could be eaten, but provided vegetation for direct consumption. Pollen analysis in Denmark indicates that closed-canopy forests prevailed there around 12,000 yr BP, creating survival problems for men. In response, men reduced the forest overstory with fire. In turn, this disturbance led to increases in human settlements (Champion and others 1984, Kurten 1972).


Migratory patterns of large herbivores can cover large areas and be unpredictable. The occurrence of more diverse and abundant plant resources, results in a greater diversity and abundance of wildlife species (Champion and others 1984). The manipulation of vegetation by prehistoric men can be viewed as structured hunting. Herds were attracted to locations by improving foraging opportunities. According to Champion and others (1984), this manipulation of wildlife blurs the distinction between hunting and other forms of exploitation, and may be considered semi-domestication (Hudson 1976). Perhaps these techniques were the foundations of animal domestication.


Similar manipulation was applied in the Southeast (Hudson 1976). The descendants of Eurasian people brought the ancient tool that could change landscapes: fire!


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content: Wayne D. Carroll
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created: 21-NOV-2001