The influence of prehistoric human-set fires on oak-chestnut forests in the southern Appalachians
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): P. A. Delcourt; H. R. Delcourt
Publication Year: 1998

Cataloging Information

  • Acer rubrum
  • agriculture
  • Andropogon scoparius
  • Appalachian Mountains
  • Blue Ridge Mountains
  • Carya
  • Castanea dentata
  • charcoal
  • coniferous forests
  • Cumberland Plateau
  • disturbance
  • fire adaptations (plants)
  • fire frequency
  • fire management
  • forest management
  • fossils
  • Fraxinus nigra
  • hardwoods
  • Helianthus
  • human caused fires
  • hunting
  • Kentucky
  • lightning caused fires
  • mountains
  • Native Americans
  • North Carolina
  • old fields
  • paleoecology
  • peat
  • pine
  • Pinus echinata
  • Pinus rigida
  • Pinus virginiana
  • plant communities
  • pollen
  • ponds
  • prehistoric fires
  • Quercus coccinea
  • Quercus prinus
  • Tennessee
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 1, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 47018
Tall Timbers Record Number: 22875
TTRS Location Status: In-file
TTRS Call Number: Journals-C
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.


Fossil pollen and charcoal in peat deposits and pond sediments from three sites in the southern Appalachians yielded evidence for a direct relationship between prehistoric Native American use of fire and increases in the importance of oak-chestnut forest between about 3,000 and 1,000 years ago. At Cliff Palace Pond on the Cumberland Plateau of southeastern Kentucky, Tuskegee Pond, in the Ridge and Valley of East Tennessee, and Horse Cove Bog in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, increases in fire frequency corresponded with the change in Native American activities from hunting and gathering in the Late Archaic cultural period toward more sedentary lifestyles and cultivation of native plants in the Woodland cultural period. Forests of oak and chestnut became dominant on upper slopes, with fire-adapted pines establishing on ridge tops and disturbance-adapted hardwoods invading abandoned Indian old fields. We speculate that prehistoric Native American use of fire would have been an intermediate-scale disturbance regime that would have heightened ecotonal contract across plant community boundaries and would also have increased biological diversity across the landscape. Published by Southern Appalachian Botanical Society. Abstract reproduced by permission.

Online Link(s):
Delcourt, P. A., and H. R. Delcourt. 1998. The influence of prehistoric human-set fires on oak-chestnut forests in the southern Appalachians. Castanea, v. 63, no. 3, p. 337-345.