Aboriginal use of fire in a landscape context

investigating presence and absence of heat-retainer hearths in Western New South Wales, Australia

Simon J. Holdaway, Benjamin Davies, Patricia C. Fanning

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    A case study from western New South Wales, Australia, illustrates the age, preservation, and distribution of late Holocene heat-retainer hearths that are abundant in the semiarid archaeological record in the region. These hearths were constructed as underground ovens with stone heat retainers. They appear archaeologically as eroded concentrations of heat-fractured stone sometimes protecting charcoal deposits. We explore geomorphic processes influencing hearth temporal and spatial distributions using a neutral agent-based model. Parallels between model outcomes and the distribution of hearths in space and time suggest that processes of sediment erosion and deposition are having complex effects on hearth survivorship and therefore on patterns of hearth frequency. We consider the various processes that explain why hearths were made in the past and how they manifest in the present. Despite the relatively recent age of the hearths when compared with evidence for fire use in the Paleolithic record, the presence and absence of these fire features reflect the outcome of a large number of processes interacting together, not all of them related to human behavior. We use the results of the case study to comment on current behavioral models for the presence and absence of fire use in the distant past.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)S230-S242
    Number of pages13
    JournalCurrent Anthropology
    Issue numberS16
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017

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