A comparison of charcoal and archaeological information to address the influences on Holocene fire activity in the Sydney Basin
The influence of Aboriginal people on fire activity and hence the vegetation of Australia has long been debated. This study aimed to document the local fire activity of the Holocene in the catchment of a small freshwater reed swamp located in the Sydney Basin and to compare this with nearby archaeological evidence; including artefact discard rates and the number of base camps and activity locations used through time. This archaeological evidence was used as an index of human activity through time to assess anthropogenic influences on fire activity. Charcoal (>250 µm) was quantified in a radiocarbon-dated sediment core from Griffith Swamp covering ∼6000 calibrated years BP. A substantial increase in fire activity was found from ∼3000 years BP and a lesser increase approximately 700 years ago. The change in fire activity at ∼3000 years BP was approximately coeval with changes in archaeological evidence from Upper Mangrove Creek, suggesting either greater human presence in the landscape or altered subsistence and land-use strategies. Fire frequency in the catchment of Griffith Swamp peaked at about eight episodes per century, perhaps in response to environmental change that promoted both increased human activity and a higher natural fire frequency. This study provides an extended temporal perspective on fire and humans in this landscape, demonstrating how palaeoecology can provide practical information for the contemporary management of such fire-prone ecosystems.