By Science Daily, January 24, 2014
New research from Queen's University Belfast shows that the tropical forests of South East Asia have been shaped by humans for the last 11,000 years.
The rain forests of Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Thailand and Vietnam were previously thought to have been largely unaffected by humans, but the latest research from Queen's Palaeoecologist Dr Chris Hunt suggests otherwise.A major analysis of vegetation histories across the three islands and the SE Asian mainland has revealed a pattern of repeated disturbance of vegetation since the end of the last ice age approximately 11,000 years ago.
Evidence of human activity in rainforests is extremely difficult to find and traditional archaeological methods of locating and excavating sites are extremely difficult in the dense forests. Pollen samples, however, are now unlocking some of the region's historical secrets.
"One of the major indicators of human action in the rainforest is the sheer prevalence of fast-growing 'weed' trees such as Macaranga, Celtis and Trema. Modern ecological studies show that they quickly follow burning and disturbance of forests in the region.
"Nearer to the Borneo coastline, the New Guinea Sago Palm first appeared over 10,000 years ago. This would have involved a voyage of more than 2,200km from its native New Guinea, and its arrival on the island is consistent with other known maritime voyages in the region at that time -- evidence that people imported the Sago seeds and planted them.”
Dr Hunt continued: "Laws in several countries in South East Asia do not recognise the rights of indigenous forest dwellers on the grounds that they are nomads who leave no permanent mark on the landscape. Given that we can now demonstrate their active management of the forests for more than 11,000 years, these people have a new argument in their case against eviction."
The above story is based on materials provided by Queen's University, Belfast. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
1. C.O. Hunt, R.J. Rabett. Holocene landscape intervention and plant food production strategies in island and mainland Southeast Asia. Journal of Archaeological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2013.12.011