Characterizing past fire regimes: why environmental archaeology and anthracology matters

Tomorrow, Valentina Pescini will be presenting “Characterizing past fire regimes: why environmental archaeology and anthracology matters” in a workshop titled “Grassland/Forest Shifts in Era of Climate Change: Ecological and Social Consequences of Fire Suppression and Pastoral Abandonment in Italy, Southern Africa and Norway”. The workshop is hosted by Department of Social Anthropology (SAI), University of Oslo, and co-funded by the SAI based Network for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies/ INTPART (International Partnerships for Excellent Education, Research and Innovation).

Workshop information

Location: Workshop, University of Oslo, Friday 15th September 2023

Topic: On behalf of the INTPART, Professor Andrew Mathews (UCSC) and Professor Marianne Lien (SAI; UiO) have invited a group of scholars from across the social and natural sciences, working in Italy, Southern Africa and Norway, to describe their research on fire, pastoralism and grasslands. The aim of the workshop is to share insights, questions, methods, and findings that matter to each of us, with a view to exploring possibilities for developing future collaborations and joint funding proposals.


Fire suppression and pastoral abandonment have transformed grasslands into scrub and forests across different regions around the world, and contribute in shaping landscapes that are increasingly vulnerable to fire. This is a topic of concern in an era of climate change, with predictions of more frequent, larger and more intense fire events. Hundreds or even thousands of years of human induced fires and grazing formerly created grasslands of great economic and social significance. Twentieth century states have suppressed the effects of fire and grazing, either through implementing prohibitions against burning and favoring alternative rural economies, or by channeling agriculture towards optimization and economies of scale, leaving marginalized pastures abandoned. Additionally, ethnic stereotyping of pastoralists and/or hostility to fire have created stigma and social silence on traditional practices, reducing our understanding of the role of cultural burning and grazing in maintaining grasslands. We propose that such ignorance limits our capacity to respond to rapid ecosystem shifts, species loss, forest fires, and climate change. This workshop brings together scholars of fire and grasslands, and pasture practices, from anthropology, ecology, biology cultural geography, archeology, and environmental history in order to discuss the intertwined impacts of social and ecological change upon grasslands in the regions they study, focusing on Italy, Southern Africa and Norway. We seek to gain a better understanding of long term social and ecological processes that produced grasslands, of the effects of more recent processes of prohibition and (pastoral) abandonment, and of contemporary efforts to reintroduce cultural fire and grazing.

Valentina Pescini is a Ramón y Cajal Researcher (RYC2021-034621-I) with the project “Transeant. Landscape of transhumance: Environmental archaeology research between Eastern Pyrenees (Spain) and Maritime Alps (Italy)

Featured image credit: Christer Gulbrandson.

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