In this study, we documented the presence of macroscopic (> 2 mm) charcoal, quantified charcoal mass, and radiocarbon-dated charcoal macrofossils in 10 soil cores to develop a coarse-resolution fire history for a mixed hardwood forest on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. Macroscopic charcoal occurred in all 10 soil cores. Total dry mass of macroscopic charcoal varied by core and by depth layer. Charcoal fragments were most abundant in two non-adjacent cores (separated by ca. 80 m), a finding that may be evidence of a patchy fire regime in the study area. AMS radiocarbon dating of the five deepest charcoal samples indicated that the earliest recorded fire in the study site occurred around 6735 cal yr BP (calibrated years before 1950). Charcoal in surface soils was not dated but one deep sample indicated a fire during the historic period at approximately 174 cal yr BP. No overlap occurred within the 2-sigma calibrated age ranges of the dated charcoal samples, indicating a minimum of five separate fire events have occurred on the site during the last 6700 plus years. This was the first study to use soil charcoal to document past fire events in hardwood forests of the Cumberland Plateau and the first to examine the prehistoric fire regime of Quercus stands in the region at a local-scale. Our results provide a basis for reconstructing long-term fire histories at the stand-scale in Quercus-dominated forests of eastern North America.
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Vol. 135 • No. 3