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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Alan P. Sullivan III; Kathleen M. Forste
Publication Date: 2014

Archaeologists working in the vast coniferous uplands of the American Southwest have commonly assumed that the subsistence economies of the prehistoric peoples who dwelt there focused on corn (Zea mays) agriculture, the erratic yields of which were supplemented with the unintensive collection of wild plants. In this paper, we develop an alternative to this orthodox view, in which we posit that human-controlled burning of understory biomass was a vegetation-community and successional-stage management strategy intended to propagate wild plants in bulk quantities. By comparing the relative frequencies and ubiquities of macrobotanical remains recovered from a variety of storage and consumption contexts with pollen frequencies from production and processing contexts, we show that the systematic encouragement of ruderals in pyrogenic resource patches ('niches') was a sustainable practice that overcame natural limitations to biomass productivity and corn cultivation in pinyon-juniper (Pinus edulis and Juniperus sp.) woodlands. Importantly, these analyses indicate that low-intensity burning was a key aspect of fire-reliant subsistence economies that generated anthropogenic ecosystems whose composition and productivity were markedly different from today's.

Online Links
Citation: Sullivan, Alan P.; Forste, Kathleen M. 2014. Fire-reliant subsistence economies and anthropogenic coniferous ecosystems in the pre-Columbian northern American southwest. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 23(1 Supplement):135-151.

Cataloging Information

  • agriculture
  • anthropogenic fire
  • archaeological sites
  • Arizona
  • coniferous forest
  • fire management
  • forest management
  • human caused fires
  • juniper
  • Juniperus spp.
  • Pinus edulis
  • pinyon pine
  • pinyon-juniper woodlands
Tall Timbers Record Number: 30570Location Status: Not in fileCall Number: AvailableAbstract Status: Okay, Fair use, Reproduced by permission
Record Last Modified:
Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 20575

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by Tall Timbers and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of Tall Timbers.