CAR seminar series

Presented by ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences and ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

What is anthracology anyway? The potential of wood charcoal analysis for investigating the history of human-forests interactions in Oceania

Archaeobotany is a key method for understanding the long-term history of the human use of plants and the dynamics of human-environment relationships – including key archaeological questions such as human evolution and dispersal around the world, or the complex management practices of so-called “wild” vs “domesticated” vegetation resources. Anthracology is a specific sub-discipline of archaeobotany which focuses on wood charcoal macro-remains from archaeological sites.

Both archaeobotany in general and anthracology in particular have remained underdeveloped fields of research in Oceania – although we are currently witnessing an exciting increase of such studies in the region.

In this talk, Dr. Emilie Dotte-Sarout will try to expose why anthracology is particularly well suited to investigate questions of human adaptation to the peculiar and extremely diverse environments of Australia and the Pacific, especially in regards to exploitation and management of tropical forests. After a short review of wood charcoal studies in Oceania, she will expose the basic principles and methodologies developed by the systematic anthracological approach. She will then present some case studies from Australia and the Pacific exemplifying how wood charcoal can inform our knowledge not just of ancient environment and fuel collection, but also of past human experience of the landscape and management practices of the vegetation – and help us move beyond imported notions such as agriculture, wild or domesticated plants, that do not manage to capture the socio-environmental realities of our region.