Fire history on the California Channel islands spanning human arrival in the Americas

Mark Hardiman, Andrew C. Scott, Nicholas Pinter, R. Scott Anderson, Ana Ejarque, Alice Carter-Champion, Richard A. Staff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Recent studies have suggested that the first arrival of humans in the Americas during the end of the last Ice Age is associated with marked anthropogenic influences on landscape; in particular, with the use of fire which, would have given even small populations the ability to have broad impacts on the landscape. Understanding the impact of these early people is complicated by the dramatic changes in climate occurring with the shift from glacial to interglacial conditions. Despite these difficulties, we here attempt to test the extent of anthropogenic influence using the California Channel Islands as a smaller, landscape-scale test bed. These islands are famous for the discovery of the ‘Arlington Springs Man’, which are some of the earliest human remains in the Americas. A unifying sedimentary charcoal record is presented from Arlington Canyon, Santa Rosa Island, based on over 20 detailed sedimentary sections from eight key localities. Radiocarbon dating was based on thin, fragile, long fragments of charcoal in order to avoid the ‘inbuilt’ age problem. Radiocarbon dating of 49 such fragments has allowed inferences regarding the fire and landscape history of the Canyon ca 19–11 ka BP. A significant period of charcoal deposition is identified approximately 14–12.5 ka BP and bears remarkable closeness to an estimated age range of the first human arrival on the islands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20150167
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1696
StatePublished - Jun 5 2016


  • Arlington springs man
  • Charcoal
  • Fire
  • Landscape history
  • Radiocarbon dating

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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