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Sir_Godspeed

Forests of Fantasy Maps

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When I was a kid, I first saw the fantasy maps in the Lord of the Rings, with its exquisite penmanship, and the stylized, pseudo-medieval icons symbolizing mountains, cities, forests, and so on.

To my mind, however, I had a hard time imagining this landscape. If trees on the map indicated forests, then in my head, the rest of the map would be grasslands completely devoid of tree-cover, which seemed oddly barren for what was to a good extent fantasy-northwestern Europe This seemed utterly bizarre to me. I remember asking my dad about this, and he told me that the trees on the map only referred to particularly dense woodlands, and that indeed there were probably trees all around, just less so.

I've thought about this a bit, as it's by now a tradition for many fantasy maps to dot in some woods here and there and name them, sometimes very deliberately, sometimes more for aesthetic purposes - but the question of "what about outside of the woods?" is something I always carry with me.  And thus Glorantha.

This is not necessarily a question solely about to what degree Gloranthan areas that aren't explicitly covered in trees on the maps have some tree cover on the ground as well (although some discussion on that is welcome - I remember reading or watching a video that said the Bronze Age saw the largest agricultural footprint in terms of square miles in the history of Britain, for example), but it's perhaps equally a question of what makes a forest with a big F, and what are just a bunch of trees just hanging about. 

Is there simply a density equation going on? Or is it mixed into mythical or political issues, such as the residence of woodland spirits, aldryami, forest-people who call that area their home. For example, maps often do not show woodlands around the Vent - yet woodlands would be necessary for large scale swidden agriculture to work, if I understand it correctly. Is Junora really that barren of dense woodlands? These are all just examples.

As I said, this is as much a topic of cartography and symbolism as it is about Gloranthan geography as-is - though it is both.

EDIT: And of course, this does vary between different kinds of maps, lest I come off as treating not only all fantasy-style maps, but also all Glorantha maps, with too broad strokes.

Edited by Sir_Godspeed
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1 hour ago, Sir_Godspeed said:

I remember reading or watching a video that said the Bronze Age saw the largest agricultural footprint in terms of square miles in the history of Britain, for example), but it's perhaps equally a question of what makes a forest with a big F, and what are just a bunch of trees just hanging about. 

I get your meaning. It is almost an axiom (or at least as close as you will ever get from that proud folk that introduced the term blarney into the english language)  that once, a squirrel could travel from any coast in Ireland to any other coast and never touch the ground.

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Forests were farmed, coppicing and pollarding were common techniques to produce materials as wide ranging as animal feed to boat building. Parklands were also maintained to promote deer, boar and fowl for hunting. Mass deforestation only began in the gunpowder age - ships and charcoal 

In my view most temperate landscapes will have substantial tree cover even if labelled farmland. Forests with an F would also have communities living within so the distinction between farm and forest gets very vague.

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29 minutes ago, Psullie said:

coppicing and pollarding

Well, I learned 2 new words today. Not a bad day.

Would people in the Bronze Age have actually uprooted trees to make room for farmland that they can plow, or would they have just picked a nice place to setup their homes to begin with, with water, space, and trees all nearby?

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24 minutes ago, lordabdul said:

pollarding

24 minutes ago, lordabdul said:

coppicing

Quote

Just now, I said:

And a word that means copper-age, that I have already forgotten!

 

 

Shit man, I am at two and a half new words and the day is not yet done..!

Edited by Bill the barbarian

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Another such method is the growth of wall hedges between fields (both plowed ones and pasture), offering a natural fence, a source for pollarded or coppiced branches e.g. for basket-weaving or wattle and daub (or simply woven fences). It appears to be a north Germanic tradition which made its way from the Cimbrian peninsula to Anglia in Britain. You don't find many of these hedges south of the Elbe. Alleys with regularly spaced trees following both sides of the road are significantly more wide-spread.

I remember that indicating forestation was one of the trickiest problems Colin Driver had to tackle when he created the maps for the Guide to Glorantha. (That, and stamping the tree symbols manually...)

4 hours ago, Sir_Godspeed said:

If trees on the map indicated forests, then in my head, the rest of the map would be grasslands completely devoid of tree-cover, which seemed oddly barren for what was to a good extent fantasy-northwestern Europe

That's a general problem with these maps. Steppe is different from savannah or open woodlands (including some forms of Taiga or Arctic "forest"), and no such graduation of tree density is common in those maps.

RQ3 Gamemasters Book has a great section on settlement structure, average least distance between settlements and what to expect between settlements. Half the closest distance between settlements everywhere but the most densely populated places (Nile Delta, Esrolia) would be (managed) wilderness for hunting, forest or hill pasture, lumber, etc.

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2 hours ago, lordabdul said:

Well, I learned 2 new words today. Not a bad day.

Would people in the Bronze Age have actually uprooted trees to make room for farmland that they can plow, or would they have just picked a nice place to setup their homes to begin with, with water, space, and trees all nearby?

In a temperate coastal context, I'm not sure how common it is to come across substantially-sized open areas that aren't just marshy floodplains. If trees grow in one area, and not in another, neighboring area, then there is some underlying reason for that.

The simplest way to clear land will be burning. Then you need to clear the soil of rocks, which can be used for drystone walling or for house construction, or just lump them downhill or whatever. If it's marshy you need to dig drainage canals, etc.

People living on steppes/prairies with temperate continental climates will have the opposite issue, where grasses are plentiful, but water for crops and thus also wood for construction will be scarce.

I'm generalizing here, of course, there's a lot more climatic variety than this.

------

When I was in Tamil Nadu I got to take a closer look on an area that's extremely well-utilized agriculturally. The landscape in the deta-region is almost completely carved up into villages with farmland as far as the eye can see, with myriads of creeks and canals traversing it. This is a landscape that is very much maintained and densely populated, and one that I could vaguely imagine as similar to Esrolia. Even here, however, you find brushland, lines of trees dampening the wind between the different fields, lines of trees covering villages and estates from prying eyes, bringing shade and of course acting as orchards. You also find trees to bind up the soil along the erosion-prone creek-banks, and here and there you see larger groups of trees largely untouched for whatever reason (lumber for boatbuilding, as someone mentioned)- though I wouldn't call them forests.

Anyway, I think most of us agree on that trees are a lot more spread out than your typical stylized fantasy map generally indicated - it's just interesting to see the logic behind graphical, stylized representations like maps.

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3 hours ago, Psullie said:

Mass deforestation only began in the gunpowder age

this is ... not accurate

the cedars of Lebanon were nearly annihilated by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.

"stickpicker" was a real job because there was nothing at all to burn so people's entire jobs was to find twigs to start and maintain fires with

Chinese woks were invented because there were no trees left in China; you needed to be able to heat and cook a meal over grasses.

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The thing about forests is that they mean different things.

In medieval England, and parts of medieval Europe, a Forest was a n area of land set aside for hunting. It normally contained trees, but also contained clearings, grasslands, shrubs, wasteland and so on. Peasants could live in the Forests, using fallen trees and collecting fruits and nuts, they could keep pigs which fed on acorns.some people even fenced off parts of the forest and had villages there.

Other areas had massive forests that are large wooded areas. I think the Black Forest was more like this than a hunting forest, but am not sure. Places such as Russia have vast endless forests, the Taiga, that cover many thousands of square miles. However, even they are not continuous woodlands and have farmland, grassland and other areas dotted around inside them. 

In England, we have Spinneys, which are small woods, probably with only a few hundred trees in, or Copses which are even smaller. They would be too small to show on a map of a large area, but might show on a map of a village. Rivers would have trees growing along their banks. Areas around woodland might contain bushes and shrubs, the outback in Australia isn't known as Bush for nothing.

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On 11/1/2019 at 2:51 AM, Bill the barbarian said:

Alas, all too true. The numbers of empires that fell because of the ecological messes they made...

Usually went hand in hand with a climatic change or some other additional factor, otherwise the empire wouldn't have had the chance to grow that much.

Soil exhaustion is a problem, as is over-use of water, and salinification of the soil where irrigation from aquifers is practiced. (Irrigation from melt-off of snow or artificially retained rainfall is a lot less prone to salinification.)

 

The Norman concept of the Forest as a hunting preserve appears to be quite the exception, although the concept of the forest / wood / skog as an untamed wilderness appears to be inherent in the Germanic languages. Forest actually is derived from the Latin term for the Outside, also found in Forum, which indicates that this sentiment may be Indo-European rather than just Germanic.

On the other hand, there is the ur-German sentiment of the (tall, moderately undergrown) beech forest as a kind of national womb that needs to be experienced on after-church hikes on Sundays. (Actually used to, in my youth in the seventies, though the weekly expedition into the forest has declined since. But then there are new developments, like forest Kindergarten where four-year-olds get dressed in waterproof padding to spend the entire day outside.)

 

As to mapping forestation, I wonder whether the maps really should have a few layers of vegetation density, height of vegetation, or biomass. Svalbard is covered in large areas by birch forest - less than 2 or 3 inches high. On the other hand, the habitat of the Bengal tiger is riverine brush with more than man-high grass or reeds interspersed with trees. And my job often makes it necessary for me to cross or cut my way through areas of blackberry tangle, my epitome of a hostile plant environment (especially on hot humid days when the mosquitoes breeding in the nearby pond I need to get to enrich the air with protein).

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On 10/31/2019 at 3:41 PM, lordabdul said:

Would people in the Bronze Age have actually uprooted trees to make room for farmland that they can plow

Humans are quite capable of clearing trees to plant crops using stone tools.

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2 minutes ago, alakoring said:

Humans are quite capable of clearing trees to plant crops using stone tools.

I suppose, the ingenuity of humans will always win out. I have constantly been astounded throughout my life by what happens when a group of people get in their heads to accomplish something (for good or ill). When the sleeves go up, look out.

Cheers

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20 minutes ago, alakoring said:

Humans are quite capable of clearing trees to plant crops using stone tools

My question wasn't really about whether they could do it, but about whether it was common practice. Basically, was deforestation a common thing in the Bronze Age, or is that only something that started in the Dark/Middle Ages.

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28 minutes ago, lordabdul said:

My question wasn't really about whether they could do it, but about whether it was common practice. Basically, was deforestation a common thing in the Bronze Age, or is that only something that started in the Dark/Middle Ages.

Yes. Extensive deforestation took place in the Neolithic - and basically everywhere where farmers settle.

In Glorantha there has been extensive deforestation in Dragon Pass, Peloria, and elsewhere thanks to human activity. One of the main reasons that the aldryami don't like humans.

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AFAIK deforestation is possible with firestick farming, which really only works well with dry climates.  For wetter regions, such as the Gangetic Valley in India, you need iron tools.  Neither method will win favour with the Aldryami.

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On 11/5/2019 at 4:40 AM, alakoring said:
On 10/31/2019 at 10:41 PM, lordabdul said:

Would people in the Bronze Age have actually uprooted trees to make room for farmland that they can plow

Humans are quite capable of clearing trees to plant crops using stone tools.

I remember reading somewhere that the Neolithic deforested the hilltops, as their ploughs worked best on the light soils. Bronze Age farmers had better ploughs, so deforested the sides of hills and iron Age farmers had even better ploughs and could work heavy clay soils, so deforested river valleys.

Also, deforestation in the Neolithic meant that a lot more soil was washed into rivers, which extended their estuaries and changed how they worked. I can't remember much about that, but it impressed me at the time.

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54 minutes ago, soltakss said:

I remember reading somewhere that the Neolithic deforested the hilltops, as their ploughs worked best on the light soils. Bronze Age farmers had better ploughs, so deforested the sides of hills and iron Age farmers had even better ploughs and could work heavy clay soils, so deforested river valleys.

 

That doesn't sound entirely right, since most Bronze Age civilization resided in river valleys - although they mostly used floodplains, which are usually lightly forested to begin with.

Anyway, the point is a bit moot, since deforestation is less a case of heavy equipment and more a case of utilizing fire, as far as I understand it. Hell, even today you might find farmers who take out the hardest stumps with petrol and a match over trying to dig the sucker up.

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36 minutes ago, Sir_Godspeed said:

That doesn't sound entirely right, since most Bronze Age civilization resided in river valleys - although they mostly used floodplains, which are usually lightly forested to begin with.

Sorry, I am mainly talking about the British Isles, which were heavily forested and were deforested quite early in many places.

Places such as Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus Valley had very different experiences.

37 minutes ago, Sir_Godspeed said:

Anyway, the point is a bit moot, since deforestation is less a case of heavy equipment and more a case of utilizing fire, as far as I understand it. Hell, even today you might find farmers who take out the hardest stumps with petrol and a match over trying to dig the sucker up.

It's more a case of "Why bother?"

Sure, you could clear massive expanses of forest, but that would require a lot of effort and would destroy a good resource. If you couldn't plough the heavy soil, then why deforest? You would be better off hunting in the forest, using it for firewood and materials, as well as picking nuts/fruit/mushrooms/etc than clearing it for farming.

 

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2 hours ago, soltakss said:

It's more a case of "Why bother?"

Sure, you could clear massive expanses of forest, but that would require a lot of effort and would destroy a good resource. If you couldn't plough the heavy soil, then why deforest? You would be better off hunting in the forest, using it for firewood and materials, as well as picking nuts/fruit/mushrooms/etc than clearing it for farming.

While not "massive stretches" the way we might think of them, the terra preta (black earth) of the Amazon basin, making up as much as perhaps 10% of the surface soil there, was made by deliberate forest burning for agriculture.

I also believe there are accounts of North American natives burning down stretches of forest in the wastern woodlands to provide grazing fields for horses after contact with Europeans.

Again, not really massive deforestation, but there are reasons to clear areas even outside of large scale manorial agriculture.

Edited by Sir_Godspeed

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2 hours ago, Sir_Godspeed said:

I also believe there are accounts of North American natives burning down stretches of forest in the wastern woodlands to provide grazing fields for horses after contact with Europeans.

Much of the Atlantic coast north of the humid swamps and south of the subarctic of North America was burnt with great regularity starting in prehistory. These routine fires left underbrush cleared but large trees healthy and killed parasites like ticks. New England was once like 15% wooded, an excellent environment for game hunting and agriculture; it is currently 90% wooded and fires, when they happen, are nightmarish.

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4 minutes ago, Qizilbashwoman said:

Much of the Atlantic coast north of the humid swamps and south of the subarctic of North America was burnt with great regularity starting in prehistory. These routine fires left underbrush cleared but large trees healthy and killed parasites like ticks. New England was once like 15% wooded, an excellent environment for game hunting and agriculture; it is currently 90% wooded and fires, when they happen, are nightmarish.

It was also done to promote fruit- and berry-bearing plants, and when the Europeans landed, they wrote letters back on how God had blessed the land, and how the natives were just living in idyll - not realizing that this was the result of careful land management. But I get the impression you already know this. ;)

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3 minutes ago, Sir_Godspeed said:

It was also done to promote fruit- and berry-bearing plants, and when the Europeans landed, they wrote letters back on how God had blessed the land, and how the natives were just living in idyll - not realizing that this was the result of careful land management. But I get the impression you already know this. ;)

i grew up two miles from the Narragansetts and went to school with them, so yeh

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6 hours ago, Sir_Godspeed said:

That doesn't sound entirely right, since most Bronze Age civilization resided in river valleys - although they mostly used floodplains, which are usually lightly forested to begin with.

Bronze Age civilizations occupied most of temperate and subtropical Eurasia and northern Africa.

The urban civilizations you are thinking about are mostly Copper Age or even Neolithic high cultures or successors thereof, except for Europe where the needs for water management were negligible (the Europeans did have to re-invent agriculture to match temperate conditions, though, something the Anatolian neolithic immigrants managed in the first two centuries of their presence).

6 hours ago, Sir_Godspeed said:

Anyway, the point is a bit moot, since deforestation is less a case of heavy equipment and more a case of utilizing fire, as far as I understand it. Hell, even today you might find farmers who take out the hardest stumps with petrol and a match over trying to dig the sucker up.

That depends strongly on the type of forest you are taking down - removing trees with surface roots (like firs) are a different proposal from deep-rooting ones.

One of the oldest fire technologies used by humans (other than cooking food) is to clear the undergrowth from open forests to incite regrowth of tasty successor plants that will attract herbivores into regions without much cover, and this kind of forest management will have happened in most deciduous forests of the Old World. (I have no idea about the forestation of the Outback 50k years ago, whether it was savannah or steppe.)

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