A landscape architecture of fire: Cultural emergence and ecological pyrodiversity in Australia’s Western Desert

Douglas W. Bird, Rebecca Bliege Bird, Brian F. Codding, Nyalangka Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations

Abstract

Aboriginal foraging systems in Australia’s Western Desert have been structured around landscape-burning practices for millennia. These systems are mediated at one end by factors that influence an immediate-return economy and at the other by the way that burning transforms vegetative succession and habitat heterogeneity (pyrodiversity). The distinctive pyrodiversity of anthropogenic landscapes are where Martu insist that they and their estates are conceived. These estates are transgenerational storehouses of relational wealth that operate in a delayed-return ritual economy. These storehouses were ransacked by colonialism in the mid-twentieth century, precipitating a collapse in the anthropogenic fire regime and a decline and extinction of many endemic species. Since returning to their homelands in the 1980s, Martu have reestablished a tight patchwork of vegetative succession and rescaled the landscape mosaic. Previous work has shown how the emergent ecological consequences of foraging and burning interact to create greater local diversity, increase landscape patchiness at massive spatial scales, and buffer against climate-driven ecosystem disturbance. In this paper we explore how the rescaling of patch diversity through anthropogenic fire operates as a form of dynamic cultural and ecological niche construction shaping systems of sociality among people and their interactions with other species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S65-S79
JournalCurrent anthropology
Volume57
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology

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