Archaeology of fire: methodological aspects of reconstructing fire history of prehistoric archaeological sites
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Nira Alperson-Afil
Publication Year: 2012

Cataloging Information

  • archaeology
  • burned flint
  • fire reconstruction
  • Israel
  • natural fire
  • Pleistocene
  • International
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 22, 2017
FRAMES Record Number: 24131


Concepts which are common in the reconstruction of fire histories are employed here for the purpose of interpreting fires identified at archaeological sites. When attempting to evaluate the fire history of ancient occupations we are limited by the amount and quality of the available data. Furthermore, the identification of archaeological burned materials, such as stone, wood, and charcoal, is adequate for the general assumption of a “fire history”, but the agent responsible - anthropogenic or natural - cannot be inferred from the mere presence of burned items. The large body of scientific data that has accumulated, primarily through efforts to prevent future fire disasters, enables us to reconstruct scenarios of past natural fires. Adopting this line of thought, this paper attempts to evaluate the circumstances in which a natural fire may have ignited and spread at the 0.79 Ma occupation site of Gesher Benot Ya'aqov (Israel), resulting with burned wood and burned flint within the archaeological layers. At Gesher Benot Ya'aqov, possible remnants of hearths are explored through analyses of the spatial distribution of burned flint-knapping waste products. These occur in dense clusters in each of the archaeological occupations throughout the long stratigraphic sequence. In this study, the combination between the spatial analyses results, paleoenvironmental information, and various factors involved in the complex process of fire ignition, combustion, and behavior, has enabled the firm rejection of recurrent natural fires as the responsible agent for the burned materials. In addition, it suggested that mainly at early sites, where evidence for burning is present yet scarce, data on fire ecology can be particularly useful when it is considered in relation to paleoenvironmental information.

Online Link(s):
Alperson-Afil, Nira. 2012. Archaeology of fire: methodological aspects of reconstructing fire history of prehistoric archaeological sites. Earth-Science Reviews 113(3-4):111-119.