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Woodland vegetation composition and prehistoric human fuel collection strategy at the Shannashuzha site, Gansu Province, northwest China, during the middle Holocene

Li, Hu, An, Cheng-Bang, Dong, Weimiao, Wang, Wei, Hu, Zhongya, Wang, Shuzhi, Zhao, Xueye, Yang, Yishi
Vegetation history and archaeobotany 2017 v.26 no.2 pp. 213-221
Betula, Picea, Pinus, Populus, Quercus, Salix, anthropogenic activities, archaeology, bamboos, botanical composition, charcoal, climate, conifers, fruit trees, fuelwood, human behavior, humans, people, riparian areas, species identification, woodlands, China
Charcoal analysis is a useful tool to gather information about the diversity of vegetation as well as human behaviour towards the environment and the diversified management of natural plant resources. Here we present the taxonomic identification of charcoal and calculate the percentage of each diameter class of the pieces excavated from the Shannashuzha archaeological site, Gansu Province. We discuss the implications of the data for the composition of the past woodland vegetation and prehistoric human fuel collection strategy. Twenty-two taxa were identified from 2,241 charcoal fragments with a further 50 fragments unidentified. Picea, Pinus, Bambusoideae, Salix, Populus, Quercus and Betula were abundant in many samples, although Bambusoideae is probably over-represented due to its high chance of being preserved. The vegetation around the Shannashuzha site had a typical mountain character and the main vegetation types reflected by the charcoal records included conifer woods, mixed broadleaved/conifer woods and riverbank broadleaved woods. This vegetation is similar to the modern vegetation and therefore the climate at that time is deemed to have been similar to or slightly warmer than today. Abundance was probably an important factor in the fuel collection strategy of the people. Collection of wood with a small diameter was a purposeful choice by prehistoric people, probably because it was less time-consuming in the study area, which was rich in wood resources. We conclude that in this region, prehistoric people selected firewood depending not on its type, but rather on its size (diameter). Charcoal from fruit trees found at this site and at many others nearby indicates that there was a common and long history of fruit utilization by prehistoric people in the western Loess Plateau. These results provide valuable information and a new insight into the interaction between human activities and plant resources in the Neolithic period.