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Content archived on 2024-05-29

Prehistoric pyrotechnology: insights on hominid behavior from high resolution study of combustion features


The use of fire is one of the fundamental aspects of human behavior. The beginning of pyrotechnology, the mastering of fire by humans, is still a hotly debated issue in anthropology and archaeology. Micromorphological studies of prehistoric combustion features showed that some of these features are products of discernible individual and repeated burning events that took place in the same spot. Thus these features represent a sequence of in situ short-term individual actions and constitute a discernible instantaneous facet of prehistoric human behaviours.

The broad objective of this project is the development of multi-analytical protocols to study thin sections of intact, undisturbed prehistoric combustion features. We believe that this approach will maximize the information related to prehistoric pyrotechnologies maintaining the highest degree of spatial and temporal resolution and contextuality. The specific objective of this research is to develop a combined FTIR-microspectroscopy and in situ XRD, protocol t o determine the burning temperature of silicate particles included in the prehistoric combustion feature. With FTIR microspectroscopy it is possible to observe the sample with the microscope and focus on a particle as small as 50 um and analyse it. With in situ XRD it is possible to insert the thin section slide into a Difractometer and analyse a particle as small as few hundreds um.

The proposed research will be integrating part of a project conducted by a team of European and American scholars that will perform a multidisciplinary investigation on the same set of thin sections of combusted features from very important French and Israeli Paleolithic sites. The team will obtain the largest possible number of independent evidences maintaining the contextual integrity of each analytical technique within the true space of the deposits. This will allow for direct comparisons among combustion features of different types and/or from different Paleolithic periods.

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