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Early- and middle-Holocene wood exploitation in the Fayum basin, Egypt


The early and middle Holocene of North Africa was a time of dramatic climatic and social change, including rapid shifts in vegetation communities and the introduction of domesticated plants and animals. Recent research from the Fayum basin of Egypt, which holds archaeological evidence for early use of domesticates, aims to place inhabitants of that region within their contemporary environmental setting. We present here results of wood charcoal analysis from three early- and middle-Holocene deposits on the north shore of the Fayum and reconstruct both contemporary woodland ecology and patterns of anthropogenic wood use. In total, three woodland communities likely existed in the area, but inhabitants of this region made heavy use of only the local lakeshore woodland, emphasizing tamarisk ( Tamarix sp.) for fuel. While seasonally watered wadi woodlands were not harvested for fuel, more arid locations on the landscape were, evidencing regional mobility between ecological zones. Results indicate that wood was locally abundant and that inhabitants were able to select only preferred species for fuel. This study provides further evidence for low-level food production in the Fayum that preserved critical ecosystem services, rather than dramatic niche construction to promote agriculture as seen elsewhere in middle-Holocene Southwest Asia.

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