Fire-reliant subsistence economies and anthropogenic coniferous ecosystems in the pre-Columbian northern American southwest
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Alan P. Sullivan; Kathleen M. Forste
Publication Year: 2014

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
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 1, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 20575
Tall Timbers Record Number: 30570
TTRS Location Status: Not in file
TTRS Call Number: Available
TTRS Abstract Status: Okay, Fair use, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy 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 the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


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 Link(s):
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.