A Late Holocene onset of Aboriginal burning in southeastern Australia

Eric W. Portenga, Dylan H. Rood, Paul Bishop, Paul R. Bierman

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Citations (Scopus)


    The extent to which Aboriginal Australians used fire to modify their environment has been debated for decades and is generally based on charcoal and pollen records rather than landscape responses to land-use change. Here we investigate the sensitivity of in-situ–produced ¹⁰Be, an isotope commonly used in geomorphological contexts, to anthropogenic perturbations in the southeastern Australian Tablelands. Comparing ¹⁰Be-derived erosion rates from fluvial sediment (8.7 ± 0.9 mm k.y.⁻¹; 1 standard error, SE; n = 11) and rock outcrops (5.3 ± 1.4 mm k.y.⁻¹; 1 SE; n = 6) confirms that landscape lowering rates integrating over 10⁴–10⁵ yr are consistent with rates previously derived from studies integrating over 10⁴ to >10⁷ yr. We then model an expected ¹⁰Be inventory in fluvial sediment if background erosion rates were perturbed by a low-intensity, high-frequency Aboriginal burning regime. When we run the model using the average erosion rate derived from ¹⁰Be in fluvial sediment (8.7 mm k.y.⁻¹), measured and modeled ¹⁰Be concentrations overlap between ca. 3 ka and 1 ka. Our modeling is consistent with intensified Aboriginal use of fire in the late Holocene, a time when Aboriginal population growth is widely recognized.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)131-134
    Number of pages4
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016


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