Tribes used fire to maintain area's habitat

Wildfire has played a major roles not only in recent Rogue Valley summers, but over the centuries in traditions employed by the region’s tribes.

Southern Oregon University archaeologists Mark Tveskov and Chelsea Rose will discuss that history in a talk titled “Native American Fire Traditions” in a session from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29 at Common Block Brewing Company in Medford.

The presentation is part of the Underground History Live, a history pub series hosted by Tveskov, Rose and Jefferson Public Radio’s Geoffrey Riley that travels quarterly through the Rogue Valley and is broadcast live on JPR. The broadcast will be from 7 to 8 p.m.; audience members are encouraged to come at 6 p.m. to get seated and order dinner and drinks.

The “Native American Fire Traditions” event and broadcast will be the fourth in the Underground History Live series. Tveskov says this conversation will touch on the cultural and ecological uses of fire before European settlement. He and other scientists consider the archaeology, science and humanity of history in their examination and assessment of the landscape.

“One of our earliest SOULA (Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology) projects was working with the BLM out in the Cascades to catalog a site that was being looted by artifact collectors,” says Tveskov. He could see where the meadow had been but pines and brush had grown over the meadow through the years.

“When we looked at the hills around that meadow, the hills were filled with archaeological material going back 7(000) and 8,000 years,” Tveskov explains. “This was a place where indigenous peoples would come on a seasonal basis to gather camas and tarweed and go elk and deer hunting. They used fire to maintain it, to create the ideal habitat. It really impressed me to think about 200 generations of people going to that same spot.”

Tveskov says that the patchwork of forests and meadows, canopied and open lands were part of a cultured landscape created and maintained by indigenous peoples. The forest was not the primordial wilderness in an idealized, imagined conception of pre-European settlement.

According to Tveskov, fire on the ground is a tradition common to oral histories as told by the descendants of the Takelma, Galice, Coquille and Coos people.

“Fire is a common story anywhere you find people living by hunting and gathering or small-scale agriculture both in North America and around the world,” says Tveskov.

Held quarterly, earlier Underground History Live events with Geoff Riley, Chelsea Rose and Mark Tveskov have featured guests who talked about heritage cemeteries, Oregon black pioneers and mammoths and mastodons. Rose says each event has been at maximum capacity with all seats filled.

“Geoffrey Riley, host of JPR’s daily Jefferson Exchange, is just as awesome in a live setting as he is on the air,” says Rose, “and John Baxter makes the magic happen behind the scenes; it’s not scripted at all, it’s organic with time for questions.”

A second local history series in a more traditional lecture format is Ben Truwe’s Pub Night, held monthly at 4 Daughters Irish Pub, 126 West Main St., Medford, beginning in November. The first event of the series is 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5, “The Landscapes of War: the Mythology and Archaeology of the Rogue River War of Southern Oregon,” and will be presented by Tveskov.

Follow SOU’s Laboratory of Anthropology’s Facebook page for notice of future Underground History Live events. Underground History is also a regular segment on JPR’s Jefferson Exchange, airing at 8:30 a.m. on the last Thursday of the month. Both Underground History Live and Truwe’s Pub Night are included in calendars in the Mail Tribune.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

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