Impacts of fire on cultural resources
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Impacts of Fire on Cultural Resources. Kurt Menning For Prof. Scott Stephens May 6, 2004. The origin of artifacts. From simple wood to stone to complex animal products with mixed wood, metal and stone tools. Cultural Resources. Come from different time periods Prehistoric Different eras

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Impacts of Fire on Cultural Resources

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Impacts of fire on cultural resources

Impacts of Fire on Cultural Resources

Kurt Menning

For Prof. Scott Stephens

May 6, 2004


The origin of artifacts

The origin of artifacts

  • From simple wood to stone to complex animal products with mixed wood, metal and stone tools


Cultural resources

Cultural Resources

  • Come from different time periods

    • Prehistoric

      • Different eras

      • 10,000 years of history in California

    • Historic

    • Contemporary

  • Different cultural occupations

    • Different Native American people

    • Modern Euro-Americans


Classes of cultural remnants

Classes of Cultural Remnants

  • Artifacts – functional objects

  • Traces – evidence of use and alteration

  • Sites


Cultural remnants artifacts

Cultural Remnants—Artifacts

  • Artifacts – functional, deliberate objects

    • Inorganic tools

      • Stone

      • Ceramics

      • Glass

      • Metal

      • Concrete

    • Organics

      • Wood

      • Fibers

      • Fur

    • Structures

      • Cabins

      • Food bins,

      • Hunting fences


Cultural remnants traces

Cultural Remnants—Traces

  • Traces – evidence of use and alteration

    • Intentional alterations

      • Depressions, teepee rings

      • Pictographs & petroglyphs

      • Blazes on trails

    • Accidental alterations

      • Smoke/carbon on walls and ceilings

    • Remains

      • Graves

      • Shell mounds and middens

      • Bones from animals (diet, hunting tool use)

      • Pollen (agriculture, diet)


Cultural remnants sites

Cultural Remnants—Sites

  • Sites

    • Spiritual sites (historic and contemporary)

    • Traditional use areas (requiring certain plants)

    • Battlegrounds

    • Trails

    • Cabins


Potential for damage

Potential for Damage

  • Heating and combustion

  • Effects on organics

    • Consumption

    • Breakdown of pollen, bones

  • Effects on inorganics

    • Stone (example: obsidion)

    • Ceramics

    • Metal

  • Importance of soil depth

  • Fuel load and fire behavior critical


Impacts of preparation and burning

Impacts of Preparation and Burning

  • Impact of fire may be minor compared to how humans deal with it

  • Heavy equipment, rapid operations leave lasting impacts

  • Identify and map areas to avoid

  • Inform crews of what to look for and avoid…is it realistic?

  • Sufficient resources for planning?

  • Resources for evaluation in field?


Exposure looting erosion

Exposure, Looting, Erosion

  • Removal of vegetation (Chaparral)

  • Removal of surface organics to expose mineral soil

  • Erosion without cover

  • Looting with exposure


Why now

Why now?

  • Thousands of years of fire…why is it a problem now?

  • Changes in fuel loads

  • Aging of artifacts

  • More people craving artifacts (looting)

  • More intense management practices (bulldozers)


Scenarios a game for 3 teams from this class

Scenarios: a game for 3 teams from this class

  • What are concerns about cultural resources would you have during fire operations in your area?

    • What might be damaged?

    • where should you avoid putting crews or bulldozers?

    • Are there any areas that must be protected from fire?

  • What artifacts or cultural traces might you expect to find given the cultural history in your area?

    • Consider different cultural periods, prehistoric and historic

    • Artifacts, traces, alterations

  • What are the likely effects of fire on each of these cultural resources?

    • Consumption

    • Erosion

    • Exposure

    • Breakdown or alteration


Scenarios a game for 3 teams from this class1

Scenarios: a game for 3 teams from this class

  • Divide into three small teams

  • You will have a scenario involving an area and a fire that you need to plan for

  • Consider several questions or concerns as you plan

  • These are…


1 ohio hardwood forest

#1 Ohio hardwood forest

  • Setting: A state park in Ohio contains an important battle site from the French and Indian war

  • The area contains two battlegrounds and several encampments

  • A river runs through the site, and there is a bluff offering vistas

  • It is thought to have been an important encampment area for Native Americans for thousands of years…but is too overgrown to know for sure

  • Scenario: It has been a long, hot dry summer (driest on record)… A careless camper lets a paper plate blow from an illegal fire. Soon, it is ablaze…

  • Do: Plan suppression efforts with a view toward archeological concerns. What are the concerns about fire and the possible benefits (archeologically)?


2 high sierra nevadan valley

#2 High Sierra Nevadan Valley

  • Setting: A high valley in the Sierra Nevada that was the site of a boom in gold mining from 1870-1888. Up to 2500 people lived there during that time, including Chinese launderers

  • The valley itself is subalpine. It is fringed with mixed conifer and transitions into woodland and chaparral at lower elevations

  • There has been little direct evidence of Native American use in the valley itself, but there is much more evidence in the chaparral communities that occur lower in elevation.

  • Scenario: In late summer, lightning strikes a tall pine and fire rapidly spreads. Rain is on the way…next week! It is unlikely to put out the fire, but the fire will likely smolder for months and slowly spread in dense litter and duff

  • Do: Plan observation/containment efforts (where necessary) with a view toward archeological concerns.


3 pawnee buttes grasslands

#3 Pawnee Buttes Grasslands

  • Setting: Pawnee Buttes is an important site in Colorado for Native American and Indian Wars history. Two buttes look out over extensive native grasslands.

  • Native Americans used the site for thousands of years. There were no permanent structures but the landscape was altered in subtle ways.

  • In 1885, a large encampment was attacked and massacred during the 30 years’ “Indian Wars” (1860-1890)

  • Scenario: Fire suppression efforts have been toooooo successful. Prescribed fire is planned to restore a native heterogeneity to the grassland.

  • Do: Plan the Rx fire with regard to cultural resources. Keep in mind possible effects on tent rings, rock storage bins, etc.


Scenario summary

Scenario Summary

  • We considered three very different landscapes / vegetation types

  • Each site had a unique mix of historic and prehistoric cultures that offered a variety of different artifacts

  • Each site had unique fuel characteristics and would exhibit different fire behavior

  • In all cases, knowledge about resources was key in order to plan to avoid damage

  • In addition to possible damage, fire did offer some archeological opportunities, as well (e.g., clearing chaparral to see what was there)


General discussion beyond north america

General discussion: Beyond North America…

  • Consider other landscapes?

    • Australia with 40,000 years of continuous occupation

    • Europe with 6,000 years of landscape alteration


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