Authors: Christopher A. Underwood; Sally P. Horn; Henri D. Grissino-MayerThe Holocene history and ecological role of fire in southern Appalachian forests is incompletely known. Determining fire periodicity and occurrence requires a temporal depth of data that extends well beyond that of written fire records. This research provides the first stand-specific evidence of prehistoric fire and forest composition for southern Appalachian xeric forests. Forty-eight soil cores were recovered in eight sites in the western portion of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Three of eight sites produced soil cores that varied significantly in charcoal mass, suggesting the influence of spatially patchy fires, bioturbation, or overland movement of charcoal. Seven of eight sites exhibited a significant and strong negative correlation between charcoal mass and depth in the soil column; however, charcoal fragments were not preserved in chronological order. A fire chronology (9649 to 107 cal yr BP) was developed from radiocarbon dates on 122 taxonomically identified charcoal fragments. Charcoal from six categories is represented in this study: southern yellow pine, mesic conifer, undifferentiated pine, chestnut, oak, and elm. Southern yellow pine charcoal is most common for all study areas, yet mesic conifer charcoal is also well represented, suggesting that the current period of “mesophication” may not be unique in this ecosystem.
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