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The Australian National University

What is anthracology anyway? The potential of wood charcoal analysis for investigating the history of human-forests interactions in Oceania

Date and time: 
Fri, 13th Oct 2017 - 3:30pm - 5:00pm
Location or Venue: 
Sir Roland Wilson Bldg, room 3.03-3.04 Friday 13 October 3.30-5pm
Dr. Emilie Dotte-Sarout (ANU - CASS)

Archaeobotany is a key method for understanding the long-term history of the human use of
plants and the dynamics of human-environment relationships – including key archaeological
questions such as human evolution and dispersal around the world, or the complex management
practices of so-called “wild” vs “domesticated” vegetation resources. Anthracology is a specific
sub-discipline of archaeobotany which focuses on wood charcoal macro-remains from
archaeological sites.
Both archaeobotany in general and anthracology in particular have remained underdeveloped
fields of research in Oceania – although we are currently witnessing an exciting increase of
such studies in the region.
In this talk I will try to expose why anthracology is particularly well suited to investigate
questions of human adaptation to the peculiar and extremely diverse environments of Australia
and the Pacific, especially in regards to exploitation and management of tropical forests. After
a short review of wood charcoal studies in Oceania, I will expose the basic principles and
methodologies developed by the systematic anthracological approach. I will then present some
case studies from Australia and the Pacific exemplifying how wood charcoal can inform our
knowledge not just of ancient environment and fuel collection, but also of past human
experience of the landscape and management practices of the vegetation – and help us move
beyond imported notions such as agriculture, wild or domesticated plants, that do not manage
to capture the socio-environmental realities of our region.


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