Fire as a motor of rapid environmental degradation during the earliest peopling of Malta 7500 years ago

Abstract : The Holocene colonisation of islands by humans has invariably led to deep-seated changes in landscape dynamics and ecology. In particular, burning was a management tool commonly used by prehistoric societies and it acted as a major driver of environmental change, particularly from the Neolithic onwards. To assess the role of early human impacts (e.g. livestock grazing, forest clearance and the cultivation of marginal land) in shaping "pristine" island landscapes, we here present a 350-year record of fire history and erosion from Malta, straddling the earliest peopling of the island. We show that recurrent anthro-pogenic burning related to Neolithic agro-pastoral practices began ~7500 years ago, with well-defined fire-return intervals (FRI) of 15e20 years that engendered erosion and rapid environmental degradation. As early as the Neolithic, this study implies that, in sensitive insular contexts, just a few generations of human activities could rapidly degrade natural islandscapes.
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Nick Marriner, David Kaniewski, Timmy Gambin, Belinda Gambin, Boris Vannière, et al.. Fire as a motor of rapid environmental degradation during the earliest peopling of Malta 7500 years ago. Quaternary Science Reviews, Elsevier, 2019, ⟨10.1016/j.quascirev.2019.03.001⟩. ⟨hal-02083745⟩

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