Iron-smelting and deforestation: an alternative ethnoarchaeological perspective

It has long been assumed that there is a direct relationship between pre-industrial iron-smelting and large-scale deforestation. The general argument is that pre-industrial bloomery iron production depended on the consumption of huge quantities of charcoal, which over several centuries denuded the forest cover and depleted sources of wood for making charcoal. This led to a significant transformation of the landscape, ecology and environment in several regions where iron-smelting was widely prevalent. Iron-smelting was seen as one of the main agents of deforestation, desiccation and environmental change in West Africa (Goucher 1981, Haaland 1985), continental Europe and the British Isles, and recently, India (Sivramkrishna 2009). An overwhelming rate of charcoal consumption by several iron-works was responsible for adversely affecting the forest cover in different parts of pre-revolutionary United States (Muntz 1960). Due to the lack of high-grade coal deposits, charcoal is still widely used in the iron and steel industries of Brazil which is adversely affecting the ecology of the Amazonian region (Kato, Demarini et al. 2005).

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