Late Holocene history of woodland dynamics and wood use in an ancient mining area of the Pyrenees (Ariège, France)

Abstract : This paper focuses on past woodland changes and land uses in an ancient mining area of the Eastern Pyrenees (Ari ege, France). The area discussed is located at the western entrance of the Vicdessos, a valley with significant steel production, and it is crossed by the road used from the 14th c. to the end of the 18th c. for the iron-charcoal exchange with the forest Province of Couserans. The introduction of this singular exchange and the silver ore mining history of this border area raise the question of their impact on forest cover changes and changes in human practices and their link with anthropisation processes. To deal with this issue, we put in place an interdisciplinary approach involving archaeology, charcoal analysis, ecological history and geochemistry. The archaeological investigations and fourteen radiocarbon ages allowed characterising and dating of mining and charcoal-making remains. They situate the emergence of metal ore mining during the Second Iron Age and charcoal making activity between the 15th and 17th c. The geochemical analysis of 9 galena samples showed some different isotopic signatures between ores extracted in ancient times and those mined during the modern period. The charcoal analysis of (i) 2442 charcoals from 31 charcoal kilns (ii) 500 from one pedoarchaeological pit excavated in a waste heap related to firesetting, and (iii) 250 from two pedoanthracological sampling points carried out in the charcoal burning forest, permits a detailed reconstruction of the woodland cover changes from the Second Iron Age to the 19th c. Furthermore, the combination of data from different disciplines allows for a long-term reconstruction of human practices history and woodland management for different uses. In particular, the results show the transformation of the fir-beech forest, still dominated by fir around the turn of the Roman era, into pure beech wood managed on northern slopes for human daily needs, occasionally mining, lumber and mainly charcoal production until the 19th c. The elimination of fir dates back to the 17th c. This assumes the end of lumber activities in that period. Pedoanthracological and palynological data suggest that southern slopes, progressively deforested since the Bronze Age, were entirely devoted to permanent agropastoral activities probably at least since the end of the medieval period.
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Vanessa Py, Raquel Cunill Artigas, Jean-Paul Métailié, Bruno Ancel, Sandrine Baron, et al.. Late Holocene history of woodland dynamics and wood use in an ancient mining area of the Pyrenees (Ariège, France). Quaternary International, Elsevier, 2017, 458, pp.141 - 157. ⟨10.1016/j.quaint.2017.01.012⟩. ⟨hal-01760722⟩



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