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Every book about the American aboriginals mentions in passing that they kept away the mosquitoes and the cold by spreading on a layer of bear fat. Bears would have to have been as common as squirrels, as nearly as harmless, for that to be true. And we are in one of those phases of general belief that the aboriginals lived gently, simply, peacefully, in tune with Nature until the evil Europeans came. I won't defend the genocidal religious nut cases who were among my ancestors, but there's lots of info available on the imperialism of some native societies and a general love of torture (with great admiration for those who withstood it passively).
And I suspect the idea of the American natives regularly burning off the forest undergrowth is a Just-So story. It may have happened sometimes on purpose, it may have happened often from campfires that escaped control, it may have just appeared maintained because it was a climax forest that shaded out the shrubs and saplings.
Book reviews, mostly histories.
American Antiquarian Society, Worcester MA *