Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 195–211 | Cite as

Evidence of forest management and arboriculture from wood charcoal data: an anthracological case study from two New Caledonia Kanak pre-colonial sites

  • Emilie Dotte-SaroutEmail author
Original Article


Archaeological wood charcoal analysis or anthracology has been applied for the first time in New Caledonia as part of an interdisciplinary research program examining Kanak pre-colonial landscape management in a valley on the northeast coast of the subtropical Pacific island. In contrast to previous hypotheses, this study demonstrated that when the Kanak traditional cultural complex emerged around ad 1000, following the initial 2,000 years of human presence on the island, the vegetation cover showed few signs of deforestation and the tropical rainforests were still prominent. The vegetation surrounding Kanak settlement sites evolved during the first half of the 2nd millennium ad towards a more open but more complex composition that included useful taxa. This was interpreted as showing a form of forest management and possible arboriculture (the cultivation and management of trees). However, in sharp contrast to its Melanesian neighbours, very little is known about arboricultural practices in New Caledonia. Through the interpretation of data from two sites in particular, a discussion of the two-step analytical process is used to argue for the existence of arboricultural practices associated with these sites: (1) using anthracological data to reconstruct the vegetational landscape, together with ethnobotanical, ethnohistorical and archaeological data; (2) allowing for the recognition of specific practices of forest domestication, based on the manipulation of plants and of spatial patterns of forests. At a time when archaeology is engaged in a process of post-colonial re-evaluation of its schemes of interpretation, it seems timely for archaeobotany to try integrating more indigenous systems of representation into its analyses. The approach presented here is an effort in this direction, trying to make sense of new data by reading them through a local lens.


Anthracology Pacific Arboriculture Tropics Indigenous systems of representation 



The research program was funded by an Award doctoral Scholarship from the French Ministry of Research (Allocation de Recherche Doctorale 2005-2008), a cotutelle fellowship from the French Embassy in Australia (2007) and a Cotutelle Lavoisier grant from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2008), with support from the Center for Archaeological Research at the Australian National University, the Groupe De Recherche 2834 and the Equipe d’Ethnologie Préhistorique of the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. Collaboration with the Institute of Archaeology of New Caledonia and the Pacific has been paramount and I also wish to thank Daniel and Irène Létocart for their help and incredible botanical knowledge. I acknowledge the assistance of the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement in Nouméa. The Northern Province of New Caledonia, the Conseils coutumiers of Bopope and Pombéi, and the people of the Tiwaka valley gave permission to work on their lands and are gratefully acknowledged for this, for offering us hospitality and sharing their knowledge of the land. Christelle Carlier provided the background for Fig. 1. Special thanks go to Ingrid Ward and Philip Piper for their helpful editing of the manuscript and to Rita Scheel-Ybert for providing the impetus for the writing of this paper. Two reviewers also gave constructive comments to improve the quality of the paper. Part of this research was conducted at the University of Western Australia.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 1489 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Archaeology and AnthropologyThe Australian National UniversityActonAustralia

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