Category Archives: fire

Claim first known lighters from Palestine Neolithic

A new study claims that cilindro-conic artifacts and holed items found in Yarmukian Pottery Neolithic sites (6th millennium BCE) are the first known fire-making artifacts and not, as had been argued previously, ritual or cultural objects such as idols or game boards.
Naama Goren-Inbar et al., The Earliest Matches. PLoS ONE, 2012. Open access ··> LINK [DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042213]


Cylindrical objects made usually of fired clay but sometimes of stone were found at the Yarmukian Pottery Neolithic sites of Sha‘ar HaGolan and Munhata (first half of the 8th millennium BP) in the Jordan Valley. Similar objects have been reported from other Near Eastern Pottery Neolithic sites. Most scholars have interpreted them as cultic objects in the shape of phalli, while others have referred to them in more general terms as “clay pestles,” “clay rods,” and “cylindrical clay objects.” Re-examination of these artifacts leads us to present a new interpretation of their function and to suggest a reconstruction of their technology and mode of use. We suggest that these objects were components of fire drills and consider them the earliest evidence of a complex technology of fire ignition, which incorporates the cylindrical objects in the role of matches.

Rather than matches I would use the analogy of lighters if any because matches by definition have a chemical head that burns with friction, while lighters can have many designs and traditionally often used, like these, friction to ignite a wick or tinder (example). 

The kind of fire-making the authors suggest resemble more the style used by Bushmen and other peoples in which a stick is energetically rolled inside a small plank, until it achieves enough heat by friction to set some tinder alight. 
Often friction is generated just using the hands but in other cases the string of a bow is used instead (right). 
This last seems to be what the authors suggest to have been the case with the strange artifacts:

Fig.3 – Fired-clay cylindrical artifacts

Fig. 6 – Kfar HaHoresh limestone artifacts interpreted as fire boards
In support for their case the mention that the Egyptian hieroglyph for fire is a fire drill with the bow method, precisely their suggested method, based on some grooves arguably made by strings, however I could not confirm this extreme because the Internet is full of all things pseudo-Egyptian and basic introductory pages to the most complex Egyptian hieroglyph writing system (similar in the general concept to Chinese script, for instance) do not go that far. 

I would not anyhow discard the game board notion myself but your call.

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Posted by on August 4, 2012 in fire, Neolithic, Palestine, Syria, West Asia


Acheulean use of fire confirmed

That is what Francesco Berna and colleagues argue in a new paper:
The findings are dated to at least one million years ago and correspond to the Acheulean period, characterized by bifacial axes and generally attributed to Homo erectus or H. ergaster.
Partly charred bone from Wonderwerk
As the authors explain, previous claims of fire use in this period in East Africa,  the Levant or China have been plagued with controversy. In most cases the controversy stems from the relatively low resolution of the research and the possibility of the fires being natural occurrences. In the case of Zhoukoudian, near Beijing, what was once claimed as product of fire ended being sedimentary deposits. 
This research actually continues the findings of Peter B. Beaumont last year, who claimed (JSTOR, pay-per-view) that the South African cave hosted evidence of fire dated to c. 1.7 Ma.
The evidence included charred vegetal remains and animal bones, these last not completely calcinated, meaning that combustion was under 700 °C. Also remains of ironstone brought intently to the cave and worked in situ (main material of artifacts) show signs of manipulation under heat above 500 °C.
Apparently the fires were produced almost exclusively with light materials such as dry grasses and leaves. While it is not impossible that they might have used wood and then the evidence got lost, the data from bones indicates combustion under 700 °C, what is compatible with fire produced with lighter materials exclusively.
See also: Boston University’s site, BU Today.