Shifting cultivation and human interaction with forests

Authored by: Rob Cramb

Routledge Handbook of the Environment in Southeast Asia

Print publication date:  September  2016
Online publication date:  September  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415625210
eBook ISBN: 9781315474892
Adobe ISBN: 9781315474885


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Small-scale societies have been interacting with the forests of Southeast Asia for perhaps 50,000 years (Mithen, 2003; Higham, 2014). Small bands of forest nomads – utilizing stone axes, adzes and points, spears, bows and arrows, bamboo and wooden tools, poisons and traps – managed to subsist on roots, tubers, herbs, palms, fruits, nuts, fish, shellfish, pigs, deer, bovines and other naturally occurring food items, predominantly in coastal and riverine environments but also deep inside the rainforest (Sellato, 2002; Bellwood, 2007; Higham, 2014). Their impact on the forest environment was barely discernible, beyond such artefacts as the clumps of sago palms they reserved and periodically harvested, and small burned clearings on the edge of the forest.

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