Northeastern Section - 54th Annual Meeting - 2019

Paper No. 11-6
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM


STANSFIELD, Billy, Center for Integrative Geosciences, University of Connecticut, 354 Mansfield Road, Storrs, CT 06269 and OUIMET, William B., Dept. of Geography; Center for Integrative Geosciences, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269

The Connecticut charcoal industry was historically among the state’s primary anthropogenic drivers of geomorphic disturbance, as well as an integral component of regional economic activity. Charcoal production required harvesting trees and constructing platforms on which timber mounds were erected to slowly pyrolyze fuelwood into charcoal. On average, each charcoal site was associated with 1 to 2 acres of cleared forest and produced 900–1200 bushels of charcoal. Today, we call sites where this occurred relict charcoal hearths (RCHs), and they can be found all throughout the northeastern united states. Previous studies have identified over 20,000 RCHs in northwest Connecticut, ranging in size from 8-15m in diameter, and typically consisting of one or more dark soil layers enriched with charcoal fragments. In this study, we explore the history, spatial distribution, age, morphology, and soil properties of RCHs in eastern Connecticut, where they have never before been studied. Two clusters of RCHs were identified and mapped in LiDAR data within Natchaug State Forest and in Gay City State Park. Field studies consisted of visiting mapped sites, measuring the diameter of each RCH platform and evaluating the thickness of charcoal layers at the site. Preliminary analysis indicates that the size and charcoal thickness of eastern Connecticut RCHs is highly variable but generally consistent with western Connecticut sites. However, the eastern RCHs seldom have multiple, thick layers of charcoal separated by weathered soil material, as is more common in western Connecticut. These discrepancies likely reflect differences in regional geology, economic demand, and duration of use between the regions. Overall, the distinct history of charcoaling is critical to understanding the legacy of past land use activity on the New England landscape.