29 Dec 2007, 12:25pm
Fire History
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References on the American Indian Use of Fire in Ecosystems

Williams, Gerald W. References on the American Indian Use of Fire in Ecosystems. 2003.

Compiled and introduction by Gerald W. Williams, Ph.D. Historical Analyst USDA Forest Service Washington, D.C. June 12, 2003, containing over 1,000 citations to books and papers about anthropogenic fire.

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

… Many people believe that North America, before the coming of the Spanish explorers, missionaries, and settlers, was a totally pristine, natural, wilderness world with ancient forests covering the landscapes. This ideal world was populated by millions of Indian people who, somewhat amazingly, “were transparent in the landscape, living as natural elements of the ecosphere. Their world, the New World of Columbus, was a world of barely perceptible human disturbance (Shetler 1982: 226).” This peaceful, mythic, magical ideal has symbolized the thinking behind much of the modern environmental movement. However, as Daniel Botkin pointed out, these impressions of a “benign people treading lightly on the land” are wrong…

“Native Americans had three powerful technologies: fire, the ability to work wood into useful objects, and the bow and arrow. To claim that people with these technologies did not or could not create major changes in natural ecosystems can be taken as Western civilization’s ignorance, chauvinism, and old prejudice against primitivism-the noble but dumb savage. There is ample evidence that Native Americans greatly changed the character of the landscape with fire, and that they had major effects on the abundances of some wildlife species through their hunting,” (Botkin 1995: 169)…

…Steve Pyne put much of the Indian use of fire into perspective as he reported that:

“the modification of the American continent by fire at the hands of Asian immigrants [nowcalled American Indians, Native Americans, or First Nations/People] was the result of repeated, controlled, surface burns on a cycle of one to three years, broken by occasional holocausts from escape fires and periodic conflagrations during times of drought. Even under ideal circumstances, accidents occurred: signal fires escaped and campfires spread, with the result that valuable range was untimely scorched, buffalo driven away, and villages threatened. Burned corpses on the prairie were far from rare. So extensive were the cumulative effects of these modifications that it may be said that the general consequence of the Indian occupation of the New World was to replace forested land with grassland or savannah, or, where the forest persisted, to open it up and free it from underbrush. Most of the impenetrable woods encountered by explorers were in bogs or swamps from which fire was excluded; naturally drained landscape was nearly everywhere burned. Conversely, almost wherever the European went, forests followed. The Great American Forest may be more a product of settlement than a victim of it,” (Pyne 1982: 79-80)…

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28 Dec 2007, 7:32pm
Fire History
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A Time for Burning

Lewis, Henry T. A Time for Burning. Occasional Publication No. 17. 1982, Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta, Boreal Institute for Northern Studies

Review with selected excerpts by Mike Dubrasich

Anthropologist Henry T. Lewis (1928-2004) earned his doctorate at UC Berkeley and authored Patterns of Indian Burning in California in 1973. Lewis went on to become Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alberta in Edmondton (1971-1975 and 1986-1990). There he conducted research in the burning practices of the native peoples of northern Alberta. In addition to written works, Lewis produced a documentary film, The Fires of Spring, in 1978.

Henry T. Lewis and M. Kat Anderson edited and wrote Introductions to Forgotten Fires — Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness by Omer C. Stewart, University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.

Papers by Henry T. Lewis include:

1973 Patterns of Indian Burning in California: Ecology and Ethnohistory. Lowell John Bean (ed.). Ballena Anthropological Papers Vol. 1. Ramona, CA: Ballena Press. Reprinted in Thomas C. Blackburn and Kat Anderson (eds.) Before the Wilderness: Environmental Management by Native Californians. Menlo Park, CA: Ballena Press.

1977 Maskuta: The Ecology of Indian Fires in Northern Alberta. Western Canadian Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 7, #1: 15-52.

1978 Traditional Uses of Fire in Northern Alberta. Pp. 61-62 in Dennis E. Dube (compiler) Fire Ecology in Resource Management: Workshop Proceedings, December 6-7, 1977. Information Report NOR-X-210. Edmonton, Alberta: Environment Canada, Canadian Forestry Service, Northern Forest Research Centre.

1980 Hunter-Gatherers and Problems for Fire History. Pp. 115-119 in Marvin A. Stokes and John H. Dieterich (technical coordinators) Proceedings of the Fire History Workshop: October 20-24, 1980, Tucson, Arizona. General Technical Report RM-81. Fort Collins, CO: USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station.

1980b Indian Fires in Spring: Hunters and Gatherers of the Canadian Forest Shaped Their Habitat with Fire. Natural History, Vol. 89, #1 (Jan): 76-78, 82-83.

1982 Fire Technology and Resource Management in Aboriginal North American and Australia. Pp. 45-67 in Nancy M. Williams and Eugene S. Hunn (eds.) Resource Managers: North American and Australian Hunter-Gatherers; Proceedings of AAAS Selected Symposium 67. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, Inc.

1982 A Time for Burning. Occasional Publication No. 17. Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta, Boreal Institute for Northern Studies.

1985 Why Indians Burned: Specific Versus General Reasons. Pp. 75-80 in James E. Lotan, et al. (technical coordinators) Proceedings–Symposium and Workshop on Wilderness Fire: Missoula, Montana, November, 15-18, 1983. General Technical Report INT-182. Ogden, UT: USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station.

1990 Reconstructing Patterns of Indian Burning in Southwestern Oregon. Pp. 80-84 in Nan Hannon and Richard K. Olmo (eds.) Living with the Land: The Indians of Southwest Oregon - Proceedings of the1989 Symposium on the Prehistory of Southwest Oregon. Medford, OR: Southern Oregon Historical Society. [See our review here]

1988 Lewis, Henry T. and Theresa A. Ferguson. Yards, Corridors, and Mosaics: How to Burn a Boreal Forest. Human Ecology, Vol. 16, #1 (Mar): 57-77. Notes Indian fire use in NW California and western WA in pages 58-63 .

In A Time for Burning Lewis recounts the burning practices of three Athabaskan groups, the Beaver, Slavey, and Sekani Nations of the boreal forests of Alberta. In addition, his informants included Crees, who moved into the area around 1725 from western Ontario and the James Bay region, and Chipewayans who entered from northeast Alberta during the latter part of the 18th century.

Selected excerpts:

In North America, the most important resources of Indian hunter-gatherers are those found in recently burned areas: bison, moose, deer, elk, hares, grouse, grass seeds, legumes, berries, bulbs. However, natural [lightning] fires are much too irregular in occurrence and distribution to ensure the abundance of these resources. Also, because these fires are normally a phenomenon of late spring and early autumn, they destroy standing crops of plant materials. In some cases, they can seriously delay or fundamentally alter the pattern of plant recovery, which can adversely affect the local adaptations of hunter-gatherers…

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26 Dec 2007, 3:58pm
Cultural Landscapes Fire History
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The Ecological Legacy of Indian Burning Practices in Southwestern Oregon

Carloni, Ken. The Ecological Legacy of Indian Burning Practices in Southwestern Oregon. 2005. Doctoral dissertation, Oregon State Univ.

Review with excerpts by Mike Dubrasich

An Oregon forest scientist has discovered (or rediscovered, to be precise) an ancient system of trails and campsites on the Umpqua National Forest. Dr. Ken Carloni of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, reported his findings in his 2005 doctoral dissertation entitled The Ecological Legacy of Indian Burning Practices in Southwestern Oregon.

Using a sophisticated computer system and software (Idrisi GIS from Clark Labs, 2002), Dr. Carloni modeled the most ergonomic (not too steep) and least cost (shortest) travel routes between ten known archaeological sites. The model was field-validated, leading to on-the-ground discovery of the ancient trails and additional sites, including an ancient summer village. The trail and homesite system in the Little River watershed is at least 2000 years old, and was used by Native Americans of the Yoncalla, Upper Umpqua, Cow Creek, and Molalla Tribes.

Strong historical development indications seen in modern vegetation species conditions and structures, together with archaeological artifacts, yield evidence of the validity of Dr. Carloni’s computer-predicted trail and campsite system. Among the evidence is the presence of ancient meadows and remnant open, uneven-aged, park-like forests along the travel routes. Both types of vegetation are thought to have been maintained by anthropogenic fire (Indian burning).

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15 Dec 2007, 6:11pm
Fire History
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Awful Splendour

Pyne, Stephen J. Awful Splendour: A Fire History of Canada. 2007. Univ. British Columbia Press.

Review by Mike Dubrasich

Steve Pyne has done it again. Awful Splendour is a tour de fire and history, another of his magnificent explorations of land and peoples told through the prism of fire. Prior Pyne fire histories include:

Fire in America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire (1982)

Burning Bush: A Fire History of Australia (1991)

World Fire: The Culture of Fire on Earth (1995)

Vestal Fire: An Environmental History, Told Through Fire, of Europe and Europe’s Encounter with the World (1997)

The Ice: A Journey to Antarctica (1986)

The latter-most book, The Ice, is not about fire directly, but instead examines the only continent where there is no (exogenous) fire. And that illustrates the fact that Pyne’s fire histories are not histories of fire per se, but rather histories of land and people with fire as the central “informing conceit.”

Awful Splendour is also about more than fire in Canada; it is about the great boreal forests, temperate forests, and prairies of northern North America, the people and institutions who encountered those habitats and their fires, and who over the course of time made Canada what it is today.

Of course, the great fires of Canada are all mentioned: Miramichi (1825), Porcupine (1911), Kelowna (2003) and all the major others. But they are placed in the context of the people who set, fought, and responded in fashion to the forces of history, natural and cultural, that gave rise to Canadian fires.

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7 Dec 2007, 12:49am
Cultural Landscapes
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Forgotten Fires

Stewart, Omer C. Forgotten Fires — Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness. Edited and with Introductions by Henry T. Lewis and M. Kat Anderson. 2002. University of Oklahoma Press.

Review by Mike Dubrasich

Omer Call Stewart (1910-1991) was the most perceptive, influential, and possibly the greatest American anthropologist of the 20th Century. And possibly the 21st, too; it’s fair to say that Omer Stewart was fifty years ahead of his compatriots, and his genius is still not widely recognized outside of esoteric circles.

Omer Stewart founded the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado and was its first chair. He was instrumental (and successful) in defending Native American land claims and helped to establish important legal precedents recognizing Indian land rights. He was at one time the principal defender of Native American religious beliefs, the Native American Church, and the sacramental use of peyote.

In addition, Omer Stewart is the Father of Anthropogenic Fire Theory.

Anthropogenic Fire Theory is a shorthand name for the study of indigenous human influences on the environment during the last 10,000+ years, especially in North America. Other folks call it Indian burning, or traditional environmental knowledge, or tending the wild, or tending fire, or a variety of other monikers and acronyms.

Omer Stewart developed the first elucidation of AFT in a manuscript that lay unpublished for fifty years, until 2002. He began work on Forgotten Fires in the early 1940’s. His efforts were interrupted by the war, and he renewed them in 1951. Efforts to get the manuscript published failed despite repeated attempts over the subsequent decades. Stewart freely shared his manuscript with correspondents, though. Before his death, the University of Oklahoma Press agreed to consider publication, and did publish it, though the effort took another ten years.

The publication of Forgotten Fires corresponds to the current revolution in the life sciences, wherein human cultural influences upon the historical environment are being taken into consideration, and Forgotten Fires is at the same time the elderly foundational document of that revolution.

In Forgotten Fires Omer Stewart united cultural anthropology with landscape ecology, in effect combining social sciences and history with geography, ethno-botany, forestry, range management, and fire management. His interdisciplinary approach generated new insights and understanding in each of those individual fields.

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6 Dec 2007, 4:28pm
Native Cultures
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Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims

Winnemucca, Sarah (Thocmentony). Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims. Self-published, 1883. Edited by Mary Peabody Mann.

Full text [here]

Sarah Winnemucca (Thocmentony, or Shell Flower, was her Indian name) learned English and Spanish, how to read and write, and became a teacher. She started her own reservation schools, represented the Winnemucca Tribe in Washington, D.C., gave over 300 lectures on behalf of her people, and wrote her autobiography, Life Among the Piutes. It was the first book written in English by a Native American woman. She accomplished all this in an era when women of any color didn’t even have the right to vote.

Sarah Winnemucca was born in 1844. She died after a most eventful life October 16, 2023 at her sister’s home near Henry’s Lake, Idaho.

In 2005 she was honored with a statue in the U.S Capitol, nominated by the State of Nevada.

Some excerpts from Life Among the Piutes, Sarah Winnemucca’s autobiography:

I was born somewhere near 1844, but am not sure of the precise time. I was a very small child when the first white people came into our country. They came like a lion, yes, like a roaring lion, and have continued so ever since, and I have never forgotten their first coming. My people were scattered at that time over nearly all the territory now known as Nevada. My grandfather was chief of the entire Piute nation, and was camped near Humboldt Lake, with a small portion of his tribe, when a party travelling eastward from California was seen coming. When the news was brought to my grandfather, he asked what they looked like? When told that they had hair on their faces, and were white, he jumped up and clasped his hands together and cried aloud–”My white brothers–my long-looked for white brothers have come at last!”…

He had expected so much pleasure in welcoming his white brothers to the best in the land, that after looking at them sorrowfully for a little while, he came away quite unhappy. But he would not give them up so easily. He took some of his most trustworthy men and followed them day after day, camping near them at night, and travelling in sight of them by day, hoping in this way to gain their confidence. But he was disappointed, poor dear old soul!

I can imagine his feelings, for I have drank deeply from the same cup. When I think of my past life, and the bitter trials I have endured, I can scarcely believe I live, and yet I do; and, with the help of Him who notes the sparrow’s fall, I mean to fight for my down-trodden race while life lasts…

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5 Dec 2007, 5:00pm
Native Cultures
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The Coso Sheep Cult of Eastern California

Garfinkel, Alan P. Paradigm Shifts, Rock Art Studies, and the “Coso Sheep Cult” of Eastern California. North American Archaeologist,  Spring 2007.

Full text [here]

Review by Mike Dubrasich

The impression was left by some (long-departed) anthropologists that the Paiute-Shoshone people were less evolved than other tribes, particularly less so than the transplanted Euro tribes that generate modern anthropologists.

The august (even in death) Dr. Julian H. Steward claimed that, “the Basin-Plateau–or “Numic”–division of Shoshonean-speakers had the simplest culture in the Western Hemisphere, and in some respects the entire world.”

Omer Stewart claimed otherwise in a series of Indian Land Claim cases that O. Stewart subsequently won and J. Steward lost.

The proof of ancient culture, one way or the other, might be found in the petroglyphs of the Cosos Mountains. The Cosos are adjacent to Owens Valley and Death Valley in California. Although dwarfed by the nearby Sierra Nevada and Panamint mountain ranges, the Cosos are home to the greatest collection of prehistoric rock art in North America and possibly the world.

In Paradigm Shifts, Rock Art Studies, and the “Cosos Sheep Cult” of Eastern California, Alan Garfinkel presents an excellent discussion of the meaning behind the Cosos rock art and the intentions of the ancient artists.

Selected excerpts:

ABSTRACT — One of the more spectacular expressions of prehistoric rock art in all of North America is the petroglyph concentration in the Coso Range of eastern California.  These glyphs have played a prominent role in attempts to understand forager religious iconography.  Four decades ago, Heizer and Baumhoff (1962) concluded that Great Basin petroglyphs were associated with hunting large game and were intended to supernaturally increase success in the hunt. Similarly, in their seminal work Grant et al. (1968) concluded that the mountain sheep drawings of the Coso region bolstered the “hunting magic” hypothesis.

However, this hypothesis has become increasingly marginalized by a prevailing view that considers most rock art as an expression of individual shamanistic endeavor.1  This paper explores comparative ethnologic and archaeological evidence supporting the hunting magic hypothesis.   I place this explanatory framework in a fuller context based on a contemporary understanding of comparative religion and the complexity of forager symbolism.  The paper argues that the preponderance of Coso images are conventionalized iconography associated with a sheep cult ceremonial complex.   This is inconsistent with models interpreting the Coso drawings as metaphoric images correlated with individual shamanic vision quests.

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4 Dec 2007, 10:21am
Cultivated Landscapes
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The Cahokia Example

Woods, William I., Population nucleation, intensive agriculture, and environmental degradation: The Cahokia example. Agriculture and Human Values 21: 255–261, 2004.

Full text [here]

Dr. William I. Woods was in the Department of Geography, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for 20 years and is now Director of the Environmental Studies Program and Professor in the Department of Geography, University of Kansas. For over thirty years he has been conducting prehistoric and historic settlement-subsistence research in the Eastern United States, Latin America, and Europe.

Abstract: Cahokia, the largest pre-European settlement in North America, was situated on the Middle Mississippi River floodplain and flourished for approximately three hundred years from the 10th century AD onward. The site was favorably located from an environmental standpoint, being proximal to a diversity of microhabitats including expanses of open water and marshes from which the essential, renewable fish protein could be procured. More importantly, the largest local zone of soils characterized as optimal for prehistoric hoe cultivation lay immediately to the east. Here, on the floodplain and along its bordering alluvial fans, the large maize outfields were situated, while the multi-crop house gardens were placed within the habitation zone on soils that had often been culturally enriched by prior occupation. As successful as this strategy might have been for small, dispersed populations in such a plentiful environment, nucleation of large numbers of people at Cahokia provided a different adaptive context that ultimately led to ruinous consequences. The seeds for the city’s destruction centered on anthropogenically produced environmental degradation. Demands on wood resources for fuel and construction were enormous and agricultural field clearance was in forested rather than prairie settings. The resultant watershed deforestation produced greatly increased rates of erosion, runoff, and unseasonable downstream flooding during the summer growing season. The economic and social consequences of declining production and localized crop failures proved disastrous for this city of farmers.

Selected excerpts:

One thousand years ago a city existed on the Mississippi River floodplain directly to the east of the present St. Louis. Called Cahokia after the historic aboriginal group who inhabited the site in the 18th century, this was the most extensive expression of population nucleation to have been produced prehistorically in America to the north ofMexico. The structure of the community was planned with clearly defined administrative/ceremonial zones, elite compounds, discrete residential neighborhoods, and even suburbs. An enormous central plaza and numerous immense earthworks provide evidence of high organizational skills and great expenditures of labor. With a population peak of perhaps 15,000 individuals, Cahokia existed for approximately three centuries (Fowler, 1997; Milner, 1998; Dalan et al., 2003)…

A variety of environmental niches within the American Bottom and adjacent uplands were present (Gregg, 1975; Welch, 1975). In the main bottom, ecological zones would have included annually submerged river edge woodlands, perennially inundated sloughs and other low areas, floodplain woodlands, extensive bottomland prairies, and oak-hickory forests on high, well-drained areas associated with a late Pleistocene terrace in the northeastern portion of the bottom (Goddard and Sabata, 1986; Wallace, 1978). In the bordering loess-covered uplands, the oak-hickory forest graded toward the east into circumscribed zones of woodland, savanna, and prairie vegetation, with large expanses of prairie only present well to the east and bottomland forest and prairie confined to the major watercourses. The great number and variety of microhabitats in the region would have sustained a high diversity of exploitable plant and animal populations…

Even during the Mississippian Period though, one cannot speak of a truly “natural” American Bottom landscape. The effects of many millennia of human occupation had resulted in great landscape change through the extirpation of local animal species; introduction of exotic plants (including domesticates); forest clearance for fuel, construction materials, and agricultural fields with attendant accelerated erosion and downslope deposition; localized enrichment of soils in habitation areas; the maintenance of prairies and removal of forest undergrowth through burning; and, perhaps, managed groves of nut bearing trees on the bluffs and bluff slope environments…

Native vegetation at the site consisted of grasses with scattered woodlands and forest found only as galleries along the watercourses. However, to the east, Cahokia’s five-kilometer radius catchment contains the largest zone in the American Bottom of soils characterized as optimal for prehistoric hoe cultivation (Figure 3). Here, on the silty alluvial overbank and fan sediments, the large, communally worked, maize outfields would have been located. Additionally, production would have been augmented by multi-crop house gardens within the site itself found on soils highly enriched by the debris from prior habitation activities, as well as from fields situated on vacated ancestral lands further upstream on the Cahokia Creek floodplain…

2 Dec 2007, 9:25pm
Cultivated Landscapes Cultural Landscapes
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Mann, Charles C. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. 2005. Alfred E. Knopf.

Review by Mike Dubrasich

1491 is one of the best and most important books of the New Paradigm. Mann reports on our new Age of Exploration, the reconstruction of an accurate picture of the past. The new, developing ideas and evidence regarding pre-Columbian America indicate that the Western Hemisphere was populated by millions of people living in civilizations older and more advanced than those of the invading Europeans.

1491 is about the cultural and cultivated landscapes of the Americas and the indigenous peoples who lived here for millennia, caring for those landscapes. Forests were part of those landscapes, too, and the residents had huge impact upon forests during the entire Holocene.

Mann has performed an stellar job of scholarship, journalism, and scientific synthesis, and in 1491 he presents the latest anthropological, paleontological, historical, and ecological findings regarding human life in North and South America before Columbus. The work of Dr. William M. Denevan, Professor Emeritus of Geography, Univ. Wisconsin, figures prominently, as does that of Carl Sauer, William Borah, William Doolittle, James Parsons, Thomas Whitmore, and many other leading geographers, anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, and ecologists.

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1 Dec 2007, 7:47pm
Wildlife History
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Twilight of the Mammoths

Martin, Paul S., Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America. 2005. Univ. of California Press.

Review by Mike Dubrasich

Twilight of the Mammoths is a first-person account of one of the greatest scientific discoveries of modern times, and that statement deserves some explanation.

In the main, Twilight of the Mammoths is about the Overkill Hypothesis. The end of the Ice Age saw the extinction of mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, saber-toothed tigers, camels, horses, and all told, over 40 species and 30 genera of large mammals in the Western Hemisphere. These extinctions took place more or less contemporaneously with the arrival of the first humans, the Clovis People, approximately 13,000 calendar years ago. Dr. Martin hypothesizes that the two phenomena were linked, that paleo hunters decimated large mammal populations in North and South America within a few centuries (and perhaps in as little as 70 years after people first arrived).

But Twilight of the Mammoths is so much more than that.

The Overkill Hypothesis is a crude substitute for a much larger concept. Paul Martin should more properly be known as the Father of the Anthropogenic Predation Theory, which holds that human beings have been impacting wildlife populations for millennia, on all continents (except Antarctica), much as the Anthropogenic Fire Theory contends that humans have also been impacting terrestrial vegetation everywhere for a long time, too.

At their cores, the Anthropogenic Theories are an extension of Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. The principal selective agent in nature has been human beings for as long as we have existed on this planet. People have been driving natural selection, and hence evolution, wherever we have lived (13,000 years in the Western Hemisphere, 25,000+ years in Europe, 40,000+ years in Australia, 50,000+ years in Asia, and 100,000+ years in Africa).

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