Use of Fire

The archaeological paradigm accepts a series of adaptive advantages which form part of the technological baggage which represent the use and production of fire. The fire constituted an essential element during the Pleistocene, and its controlled use allowed advances in ways of life and improved the subsistence strategies of hominids. It is obvious that the discovering and use of a source of heat and light meant an improvement of the ways of life which allowed the cooking and conservation of food. As a source of light, it increased the time available, being also used as a defensive element in front of predators and for possible hunting strategies. The campsite was transformed in an important social center, the ideal place for designing hunting and gathering and for the distribution of tasks -socializing element-. It concentrated the members of the group, with a natural increase of social activity, communication and exchange, stimulating mental activity, essential for the development of organized human behavior; where the language progress must have also played an important role. The columns of smoke where a means of locating of the groups helping to conserve the union links between different groups with a high mobility, reinforcing social links, essential for their genetic surviving. Ultimately, this formed part of their ways of live and constituted, from that moment, an essential part of the human groups.

The premise which differentiates the «using» of fire (maybe an oldest discovery) and the «producing» of fire (as a technological different advance and probably in subsequent stage) is accepted. From its beginning, the controlled use of fire has been linked to the processing of food, enriching the nutritional qualities of some of them or facilitating the digestion of others. Some authors have even suggested that the systematic use of fire to cook food contributed to the transformation of the hominid’s stomach’s enzymes. Apart from giving fire this defensive and culinary value, its essential role as a source of light and heat has, during the Pleistocene, an important relevance. Fire not only helped to preserve hominids from cold, but it also contributed to the lengthening of the day. Hominids didn’t depend any more exclusively of the day light to work in their domestic activities; they could develop them at the light of a fire. Therefore, light  time for groups that controlled fire was bigger. As a source of light, fire focalizes activities. In sites where there is a record of continued use of fire, domestic activities tend to concentrate around hearths. This favors the development of social links between group members, and some researchers have suggested that this element favored the development of articulated language.

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Prehistoric fire representations in bibliography of the XIX century (L. Figuier 1864, H. Cleuziou 1887,….)

However, locating temporally and spatially the first control of fire by hominids is an issue which we think it is quite out of reach of investigation. There is scarce proof, and evidences is not usually sufficiently clear as to propose hypothesis. It is considered that Homo erectus could have been the first one in presenting remains associated to fire; they manipulated and created combustion structures with some complexity. Possibly the processes provoked by nature are the origin of a use and conservation of the same, without a real control. It is unknown how this process, both in its origin as in its evolutionary initial processes, was.

Investigation about the origin of controlled use of fire requires a precise analysis which allows us to define and identify the elements which characterize these “anthropic combustion structures”. So, it is necessary to carry out sedimentological, micromorphological studies and luminiscence. Nevertheless, the teorical controversy about controlled use of fire -as a great technological advance- presents an evident actualism and, as we believe, future.

HEARTHS OF LEVEL II (ca 100.000 years)

Hogares_I

HEARTHS OF LEVEL IV (ca 120.000 years)

Hogares_II

HEARTHS OF LEVEL XI (ca 170.000 years)

Hogares_III

HEARTHS OF LEVEL XIII (ca 250.000 years)

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Rock base of hearth 2 of level XIII. Thin sheet of hearths of level XIII

Molde de silicona a tamano natural de los hogares del nivel XIII.

Silicon mould of natural size of hearths of level XIII

Bolomor Cave has provided “anthropogeic combustion structures” (so-called hearths) in levels II, IV, XI, XII and XIII. Fifteen of these hearths are being studied. They present variable dimensions between 0,5 and 1,3 m, with a density of a few centimeters, although the majority are longer than a meter of diameter. They are not isolated; several of them correspond to a same occupational moment. The hearths with an extraordinary degree of preservation are located, more or less, aligned in the outer area of the site, under the shade of the shelter and the area of activity is associated to the inside, in the protected zone, conditioning the organization of the space in the campsites. This disposition provides a place with light and warmth, free of smoke. In the area associated to hearths there is a development of a wide variety of everyday activities, especially  the processing and consuming of food and the production of tools.

Situación de los hogares en la superficie del yacimiento.

Location of hearths in the surface of the site

Ubicacion de los hogares en la secuencia estratigrafica.

Location of hearths in the stratigraphic sequence

Valoracion de la temperatura en un hogar experimental con sedimento del nivel IV.

Analysing the temperature of an experimental hearth with sediment from level IV

Bolomor Cave registers hearths within a wide stratigraphic sequence, at least between 100.000-300.000 years before present, which are evidences of the use and systematic control of fire. From this perspective it is, today, an exceptional site for the study of the controlled use of prehistoric fire in Europe.

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