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Fire production in the deep past? The expedient strike-a-light model

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Authors: Andrew Sorensen, Wil Roebroeks, Annelou van Gijn

Journal: Journal of Archaeological Science


Abstract: Clear examples of tools used to artificially ignite fire are virtually absent in the archaeological record until the late Upper Palaeolithic. One explanation is that, until this point, hominins were (by and large) simply fire users dependent on the environment to provide conflagrations for exploitation, as opposed to fire producers. An alternate scenario is that the tools they used to perform this task are difficult to recognise in artefact assemblages. To account for this, we propose the ’expedient strike-a-light model’, a concept that draws inspiration from the apparent ad hoc nature of many hunter-gatherer lithic technologies, especially those of the Middle Palaeolithic. The model contends early flint strike-a-lights were not formalised or specialised tools used to kindle multiple fires, as seen in later time periods. Instead, we postulate that flakes, retouched implements or other fragments made from siliceous lithic raw materials were utilised on a very short-term basis in conjunction with the minerals marcasite or pyrite (sulphuric iron) to generate fire. Building on previous research and our own experimental data, we establish criteria to identify expedient fire-lighting tools, and discuss the testing of our research model on five Middle Palaeolithic assemblages. Although results were negative from this limited data set, this research offers an alternative view of early fire production and a protocol for recognising expedient strike-a-light technology.

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Citation: Sorensen, A.C., Roebroeks, W., and van Gijn, A., 2014. Fire production in the deep past? The expedient strike-a-light model, Journal of Archaeological Science 42, 476-486. DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2013.11.032