Investigating variability in the frequency of fire use in the archaeological record of Late Pleistocene Europe
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Aylar Abdolahzadeh; Shannon P. McPherron; Dennis M. Sandgathe; Theodore G. Schurr; Deborah I. Olszewski; Harold L. Dibble
Publication Year: 2022

Cataloging Information

  • Europe
  • France
  • late Pleistocene
  • lithics
  • Neandertal
  • paleoenvironment
  • pyrotechnology
  • International
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: April 1, 2022
FRAMES Record Number: 65579


The primary focus of this paper is to examine the extent to which the pattern of Neandertal fire use in southwest France occurred at other times and places during the European Late Pleistocene. In previous studies, both direct and indirect data showed a pattern of limited fire use in layers associated with colder intervals in MIS 4 and 3 and more frequent evidence of fire use in those from warmer periods in MIS 5. One possible explanation for this pattern is that Neandertals were harvesting fire from naturally occurring fires. To test the uniformity of this pattern in other geographic regions and climatic conditions, we expanded our analysis to a wider range of paleoenvironmental contexts beyond those found in southwest France, which included new data from five Middle Paleolithic sites and one Upper Paleolithic site. The subsequent analyses of burned flints suggested that Neandertal use of fire was not frequent when climate regimes were colder, and was more variable and frequent during warmer periods. In fact, the study sites did not show abundant evidence for fire use, especially during colder climatic intervals. Such a result provides strong support for the argument of Dibble et al. about the contextuality of the pattern of fire use during Late Pleistocene Europe. We suggest that environmental variables, such as local climate and geographic contexts, influenced the pattern of fire use during the European Late Pleistocene regardless of the marine isotope stages represented at these sites.

Online Link(s):
Abdolahzadeh, Aylar; McPherron, Shannon P.; Sandgathe, Dennis M.; Schurr, Theodore G.; Olszewski, Deborah I.; Dibble, Harold L. 2022. Investigating variability in the frequency of fire use in the archaeological record of Late Pleistocene Europe. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 14(4):62.