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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Medieval Slash-and-Burn Cultivation: Strategic or Adapted Land Use in the Swedish Mining District?

Marie Emanuelsson and Ulf Segerstrom

Environment and History 8(2002): 173-196

The general view in Swedish historiography of an inherent conflict between iron-making and the practice of slash-and-burn is questioned on the basis of this palaeoecological case study of repeated slash-and-burn cultivation from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries in the mining district of central Sweden. An alternative thesis of a mutual association between iron-making and the practice of slash-and-burn is put forward. Deliberately used by the mining peasant, slash-and-burn was a way to turn forest resources into cereals, animal fodder and charcoal for iron-making. However, the initial practice of slash-and-burn ceased after c. 400 years, when competition for forest resources arose due to the scarcity of local forest. The new situation seems to have brought about changes in land use from slash-and-burn cultivation to field cultivation and a meadow-field-rotation system. This study also shows that the practice of slash-and-burn and its relationship to the use of forest resources may be crucial for understanding the historical relationship between iron production and agriculture in the Swedish mining district.

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