Forest Gardening

5 Aug 2017

When climate change, as in catastrophic global warming, holds hands with archaeology, the latter always comes out the loser and the results are worse than useless. So many assumptions are built into the text at ... on the subject of forest gardening by stone age humans. The lead author of the study was one Dr Patrick Roberts of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. It sounds like the sort of thing you would read by a CAGW alarmist - and the latest message is that we should put all our pets to sleep as they eat meat. Why does it only centre on the human impact of fire? It assumes from the outset that evidence of fire in the archaeological record is necessarily of human origin (when forest fires can be started by lightning and other natural causes). There is however plenty of evidence of humans making clearings, or taking advantage of clearings and keeping them as a stable open environment for the simple reason they attract browsing animals, which can be managed on a continuous basis providing a readily available dietary component. Clearings also come with an open canopy where shrubs can flourish without being shaded by trees. This was no doubt exploited by humans, as the article says, managing favourable plants. In Britain it was hazel nuts (and no doubt brambles) and in other parts of the world other plants were encouraged in order to make them more plentiful - all prior to farming. It is known as forest gardening and was the normal practise in New Guinea for example, and amongst the Maya of central America. The study concerns tropical forests but could equally apply to other parts of the world - including the so called Fertile Crescent.

My interest kicked in at the dates used in the study - 4000 years ago. This was roughly the time of the late third millennium BC upheavals around the world, ably illustrated by Moe Mandelkehr in his series of articles published by SIS. It may well have involved landscape fires with an origin in heavy meteorite bombardments of the atmosphere - which was derived from his interpretation of the Clube and Napier model. Mandelkehr produced evidence of long range migrations from virtually every part of the globe from the frozen north to the tropical forest zone of SE Asia. The study involves the dispersal of millet and rice farmers in that same region, and millet farmers in Africa. The question we might ask - did they initiate the forest clearance or did they reach a region in which fires had already reduced the forest to an open landscape. If so they would have had a problem keeping the encroaching forest at bay - and this may be a factor with the Maya for example. Tropical plants presumably grow much faster than in the temperate zone - or  is that screwed up thinking. In any case the tropics have a wider variety of plants and they grow much thicker and closer together. It is not the sort of place you would choose to do your forest gardening - unless nature had given you a helping hand.

Being an enviro-archaeological study the worst of the Green Blob shines through. They compare the early farmers with modern palm oil plantations quite oblivious to their hypocrisy as palm oil grown as a biofuel was an environmentalists dream (to kill off Big Oil). It was only when the scale of loss of wildlife became widely known that the enviros chose to distance themselves from it - but EU environmental regulations on the subject still exist. The historic farmers cleared land to grow food but the palm oil plantations are all about money and the willingness of do gooders in the West to be doing something for the environment by reducing use of fossil fuels. Not only that the palm oil plantations are created by machinery and we can visualise they probably remove a large body of the top soil in order to reduce unwanted tropical plants from reproducing (by roots or seeds) or the soil is treated to eradicate them. The historic farmers did not do this as the top soil was required for its nutrients.

It's a useful piece of archaeology in so far as it reiterates the view that people were exploiting the rain forest long before modern loggers arrived on the scene. It is only half of the story as catastrophism is not on their agenda - only catastrophic global warming (and we are all going to boil in our own juices).