• Vegetation change;
  • fire history;
  • prehistory;
  • forest clearance;
  • tropics;
  • Pleistocene

Abstract. A 3.5 m section of organic sediment was obtained from a karstic pond on a hill in the centre of the Baliem Valley, one of the major settled intermontane highland areas of New Guinea. The material spans two time periods each of approximately 2 millennia, one from about 2000 BP to the present and the other from 33,500 to 31,500 BP. The pollen analysis of the earlier section showed that it formed when the valley was forested by Nothofagus forest, but a carbonized particle input was consistently present after about 32,500 years ago. The recent section covers a period when the hill was totally cleared except for grassland and some open shrubby regrowth. The early burning and associated clearances are tentatively ascribed to a human origin. Fire is associated with slope erosion on the hill at 28,000 BP which supports the hypothesis of long term human settlement in the area.