Collaborative Research; The Role Of Fuelwood Resources In A Traditional Society

Project: Research project

Project Details


As today's climate fluctuates and severe weather events occur more frequently, sustainability of resources is a prominent concern, not just of scientists but also of government leaders and the public. Humans have adjusted to climate changes in the past. Why have some of these adjustments been more resilient and sustainable than others? Archaeologists are uniquely positioned to provide insights on sustainability because their studies provide information over many centuries. In some cases, archaeological data permit tracking of the development of human societies from small-scale egalitarian groups to large-scale socially and politically complex societies. Inherent to this transition is reliance on and the sustainability of natural resources, including the development of food storage economies. The long-term trajectory of natural resource use and management in this context is pivotal. Dr. Lee Newsom of the Pennsylvania State University, along with colleagues at the Florida Museum of Natural History, will undertake archaeological research on coastal fisher-gatherer-hunter societies that lived in southern Florida for several millennia. The research emphasizes the role of fuelwood resources as a means to preserve surplus food in an emerging storage economy. This research will examine the influence of a past society on forest resources. Insights into the legacy effects of sustained wood use on the modern forest landscape/seascape, and generally the influence of humans on coastal environments, will be of interest to other academic disciplines and to planners. Mangrove forests are endangered world-wide and this investigation will further inform ecologists about their resilience at the edge of their range. Modern management and conservation of coastal forest resources can benefit from the long-term record, as policy makers consider further habitat disruption and loss from coastal development, sea level rise, and global change.

The project focuses on the Calusa Indians and their predecessors in southern Florida, using ethnohistoric records and especially archaeological evidence. The research team will test the hypothesis that the development of a food storage economy was a critical factor underlying cultural complexity, and that fuelwoods from coastal mangrove forests were an indispensable and sustainable natural resource inherent to this process. The team will undertake intensive wood-anatomical analysis of charcoal excavated from archaeological sites in the Calusa core area along the southwest coast, emphasizing the characteristics of the fuel supply, the influence of environmental perturbations on the availability of wood, and the role of human agency and influence over local forest resources. Basic wood data collection will include taxonomic assignments, observations on anatomical variation, age, growth form, and growth rate. The research will incorporate modern forest ecological data and experimental methods to establish the hypothetical limitations of the fuel supply. Relevant paleoecological and archaeological data will provide temporal and cultural resolution. All data can be compared in order to test hypotheses on the effects of sustained fuelwood selection and use, the impact of natural disruptions to the fuel supply, and the potential for management.

Effective start/end date7/15/151/31/19


  • National Science Foundation: $150,067.00


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