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On the Role of Fire in Neandertal Adaptations in Western Europe:
Evidence from Pech de l’Azé IV and Roc de Marsal, France
Though the earliest evidence for the use of re is a subject of debate, it is clear that by the late Middle Paleolithic,
Neandertals in southwest France were able to use re. The archaeological record of re use in this place and time
is, however, quite patchy. While there are a growing number of sites with impressive evidence for re use, there
are also a much larger number of sites without such evidence. Based primarily on evidence from two recently
excavated well-stratied Middle Paleolithic sites, we argue here that taphonomic issues, sampling bias, or site
use are not sucient explanations to account for the relative lack of evidence for re. Given that modern hunter-
gatherers use re daily and in a wide variety of circumstances, the prolonged periods of Mousterian occupation
without res, even during some of the harshest conditions of the late Pleistocene, raises signicant issues regard-
ing the role of re during these times. In our view, the evidence suggests that Western European Neandertals were
not habitual re users. One explanation advanced here is that at least some Neandertals, even in the late Middle
Paleolithic, lacked the technological skill to make re on demand, and thus relied on access to natural sources of
PaleoAnthropology 2011: 216−242. © 2011 PaleoAnthropology Society. All rights reserved. ISSN 1545-0031
Department of Archaeology, 8888 University Drive, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC V5A-1S6, CANADA; and, University of Pennsylva-
nia Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 3260 South Street, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA;
Department of Anthropology, Penn Museum, 3260 South Street, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA; and, Departrment
of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Pla 6, Leipzig D-04103, GERMANY; and, Institute of
Human Origins, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA;
Department of Archaeology, 675 Commonwealth Ave., Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA; and, Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and
Humanities, The Role of Culture in Early Expansions of Humans, Tübingen, GERMANY;
Departrment of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Pla 6, Leipzig D-04103, GERMANY; and,
Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA;
Museé National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies 24200, FRANCE;
Departrment of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Pla 6, Leipzig D-04103, GERMANY; and,
Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA;
School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA; Jamie.Hodg-
Fire in Neandertal Adaptations in Western Europe 217
5 and later where it shows a trend of increasing frequency
in the archaeological record.
The Roebroeks and Villa (2011) approach, however,
does not aempt to quantify what proportion of sites have
evidence for the use of re or even within a site what lev-
els have evidence for re (Sandgathe et al. 2011a). So while
the results provided by them make it clear that there is in-
creasing evidence for re through the Middle Paleolithic,
it seems likely that this paern is driven by the number
of dated Middle Paleolithic contexts, which also increases
through time. We therefore suggest that this taphonomic
explanation for the paern should be the null hypothesis.
This would help reconcile the authors’ observation that the
evidence for re use increases over time with the work of
others who have demonstrated an apparent scarcity of re
evidence overall, which appears in only a very small per-
centage of occupation layers (Cohen-Ofri et al. 2006; Da-
vies and Underdown 2006; Dibble et al. 2009; Gowle 2006;
James 1989; Perlès 1981; Roebroeks and Tureau 1999).
Here we present evidence, based on recent excavations
by the authors at two Mousterian sites in southwest France,
Pech de l’Azé IV and Roc de Marsal, for the persistent scar-
city of re well after its rst occurrence in the European
Middle Paleolithic record. What these data strongly sug-
gest is that while Neandertals occasionally used re, there
were also major periods of time when res were either not
present at these sites or were present only sporadically,
even during periods of relatively cold conditions. As will
be argued below, the near absence of re evidence in some
levels at these sites cannot be explained by taphonomic
processes, excavation bias, or changes in site function, and
furthermore, the length of time these sites were occupied
without using re to any signicant degree is totally in-
consistent with modern hunter-gatherer use of re. This
evidence challenges the assumption of immediate and
widespread use of re, and at least in the case of western
European Neandertals, it seems quite likely that re use
was not an essential aspect of their behavior (Sandgathe et.
al 2011a). Because this suggestion would represent a signif-
icant dierence between their behaviors and those of recent
hunter-gatherers and even contemporaneous populations
of both moderns and Neandertals living in Africa and the
Near East (e.g., Brown et al. 2009; Meignen et al. 2007), it
raises questions as to exactly what European Neandertals
were doing with re and/or the level of control that they
had over it.
There is a wide range of applications involving re among
historic hunter-gatherers. Initially these can be divided into
two major categories—o-site and on-site applications.
“O-site” applications (i.e., in non-occupied areas) include
such things as using re as a hunting aid—burning o ar-
eas of old vegetation to promote the growth of new graze/
browse to aract game animals or using grass res to direct
the movement of game animals (Gould 1971). On-site, or
Thus Zeus spoke in rage… and would not bestow the
power of inexhaustible re to the Melian tribe of mortal
men who dwell on the earth. However, the noble son of
Iapetos deceived him, pilfering the far-seen glow of inex-
haustible re in a hollow wand of fennel. And he stung
high-thundering Zeus to the depths of his soul whose
dear heart was lled with rage as he glimpsed amongst
men the far-seen glow of re. (Hesiod, Theogony: 561–
According to Greek mythology, one of the greatest gifts
to humans was presented to them by Prometheus
when he brought down re that he had stolen from Zeus.
Today, just as in 8th Century BC Greece, re is seen as a
fundamental aspect of human adaptation, from hunter-
gatherers through to the most technologically sophisticat-
ed. Understandably, therefore, there is considerable inter-
est among paleoanthropologists in documenting not only
when hominins began using re but also how they used it.
There is, however, considerable debate over the evidence
for re, and, not surprisingly perhaps, particularly over the
earliest evidence.
Various claims, based on a range of evidence, have
been presented to suggest that re use began prior to 1.5
Ma among early hominins in Africa and Eurasia. Many
of these claims have been called into question, however,
based mainly on the potential for equally plausible natural
origins for such re residues (e.g., Bellomo 1990, 1994; Bin-
ford and Ho 1985; Clark and Harris 1985; Goldberg et al.
2001; James 1989; Karkanas et al. 2007; Weiner et al. 1998).
Similar criticisms can be extended to the presence/occur-
rence of presumably burned bone or int as well, as for ex-
ample, at Yuanmou and Zhoukoudian in China at 500+ kya
(see above references). There are also examples where resi-
dues originally interpreted as the remains of res are later
identied as something else. At Zhoukoudian, for example,
black lenses originally assumed to be re residues (e.g., Jia
1975) have since been identied as nely laminated silts
and organic maer unrelated to burning and certainly re-
deposited, possibly as a peat-like accumulations; the upper
ashes in Layer 4 are simply diagenetically altered loessial
deposits washed into the cave from above (Binford and Ho
1985; Goldberg et al. 2001; James 1989; Shahack-Grosset al.
Recently, Roebroeks and Villa (2011) have considered
the question of early re use in Europe. They specically
question the assumption that the colonization of Euro-
pean latitudes would have required re. To test this they
assemble a large database of published sites and, impor-
tantly, they consider not only direct evidence of hearths but
also indirect evidence of burned bones, heated lithics, and
charcoal. Further, given that natural res in the landscape
can leave traces of re on open-air archaeological sites,
Roebroeks and Villa limit their database to cave and shelter
sites. The result is that evidence for re starts to occur in the
archaeological record after 400 kya, which is well after the
initial occupation of Europe, and is not frequent until MIS
218 PaleoAnthropology 2011
ing in Mousterian contexts. Such elements include true end
scrapers, which become almost universally associated with
processing hides among later hunter-gatherer cultures;
ochre, which can be used in tanning (Wadley 1993, 2001);
or piercing tools of either stone or bone, which are used
in the fashioning of tailored clothing (Gilligan 2007). Thus,
if Neandertals did use hide as a raw material for clothing,
containers, and/or shelter, their hide-processing technol-
ogy was likely rudimentary and not developed to the point
where smoking would have been employed.
Other re use activities observed among modern hunt-
er-gatherers are associated with what might typically be
viewed as simple campres or hearths. The term ‘hearth’ as
used here is a spatially limited residue of combusted mate-
rial of human origin. They can be sub-circular res, typical-
ly less than a meter in diameter, often constructed directly
on a at surface or inside a shallow basin scooped out of
the ground surface. They may also be ringed with cobbles
to contain the re and its heat, although this appears to be
a rare practice in the Middle Paleolithic. Such hearths are
associated with a number of common applications, includ-
ing modifying raw materials such as wood (Fessler 2006;
Gould 1971; Hayden 1981; Mallol et al. 2007; Marlowe
2005; Oakley et al. 1977; O’Connell 1987) or in heat treat-
ment of lithic raw materials to enhance their aking quali-
ties (Brown et al. 2009; Domanski and Webb 1992). Small
hearths also are used to ward o predators (Fessler 2006;
Marlowe 2005; Worthman and Melby 2002), to keep irri-
tating (or dangerous) insects at bay (Fessler 2006; Hayden
1981), to fumigate against small rodents (Worthman and
Melby 2002), or simply as a means of eliminating site refuse
(see Galanidou 2000). These laer uses are unlikely to leave
distinct signatures in the archaeological record, however.
It has long been suggested that wood artifacts likely
played a signicant role during the Lower and Middle Pa-
leolithic (e.g., Hayden 1979), and in spite of their rarity,
“domestic” res, involve a relatively limited range of gen-
eral activities (Table 1) and morphologies, although there
is still a great deal of variation (see Table 1) (e.g., Binford
1967, 1978; Chambaron 1989; Driver and Massey 1957; Fish-
er and Strickland 1989; Gould 1971; Hayden 1979; Mallol et
al. 2007; O’Connell 1987).
There are few data for any of these uses in Mouste-
rian sites. Grease rendering, which usually involves stone
boiling, is easily evidenced by the presence of re-cracked
rock in Upper Paleolithic and later contexts (e.g., Manneet
al. 2005; Nakazawa et al. 2009), but not earlier. Among re-
cent hunter-gatherers dierent technologies have been em-
ployed to extend the storage life of meat, which includes
smoking, drying, salting, and mixing other natural preser-
vatives (e.g., berries with tannic acid) with the meat. These
actions all serve to severely restrict normal bacterial pro-
cesses that will cause rapid decay of the meat. Again, there
is currently no good evidence that any of these meat preser-
vation techniques, including ones involving re, were em-
ployed during the European Middle Paleolithic, and claims
for such behaviors are rare. The thick ash and charcoal de-
posits associated with sh remains in the Mousterian layers
of Groe XVI, for example, have been proposed as potential
evidence for sh smoking, but there is no direct supporting
evidence for this (Karkanas et al. 2002; Rigaud et al. 1995).
Regarding the smoking of hides, although it is certain-
ly possible that Neandertals made use of animal hides to
some degree, there is lile evidence to indicate extensive,
or at least well developed, hide processing in the Western
European Mousterian. Ethnographically, the smoking of
hides is carried out at the end of an extended process of
hide preparation (deeshing, removing the hair, stretching,
chewing, etc.) that improves their pliability, preservation,
and waterproong. It is most likely, therefore, that hide
smoking would occur only with well-developed hide tech-
nology, and many elements of such technology are lack-
Grease rendering
Heat-treating flint
Processing hides
Modifying wood for tools
Protection from predators
Clearing sites of refuse
Food preservation (e.g., smoking meat)
Cooking Food
*data from Binford 1978; Fessler 2006; Fisher and
Strickland 1989; Galanidou 2000; Gould 1971; Hayden
1981; Mallol et al. 2007; Marlowe 2005; O’Connell 1987;
Worthman and Melby 2002.
Fire in Neandertal Adaptations in Western Europe 219
represent the remains of cooked meals, but so far there
is no method for distinguishing between bone that may
have been subjected to heat intentionally (as from roasting
meat) and bone refuse that incidentally made its way into a
re. Bone has also been used as fuel for res at times (e.g.,
Théry-Parisot 2002; Théry-Parisot and Costamagno 2005),
and this is certainly the case at Pech de l’Azé IV (Dibble et
al. 2009). So, while there may be good arguments for the
benets of cooking, there is still a lack of clear demonstra-
tion that it was used during the Mousterian.
Likewise, the use of re for warmth is a modern cul-
tural universal. Fires are used either to warm the interiors
of structures, especially at night (“sleeping res”), or in-
dividuals sleep next to open-air hearths. This is the case
even among groups who inhabit relatively warm regions,
such as equatorial Africa (e.g., Fisher and Strickland 1989;
Mallol et al. 2007; Worthman and Melby 2002) and Aus-
tralia (Gould 1971; Hayden 1981; O’Connell 1987). On the
other hand, re for warmth is seen as even more necessary
among groups who occupy higher latitude regions. This
would include Pleistocene Europe, where during colder in-
tervals annual temperatures would have been substantially
lower than today. Unfortunately, as with so many of these
applications of re, its use to provide warmth would be al-
most impossible to demonstrate in archaeological sites.
In fact, identifying any single use of re is made all
the more dicult given that a single re can serve more
than one function (Galanidou 2000; Mallol et al. 2007). For
example, within modern traditional societies, a domestic
hearth is typically the central focus of a large part of daily
camp activities (cooking, tool production/maintenance,
eating, and socializing) and the same re will also serve as
a source of warmth, light, and protection against predators
at night. But the point here, and one that requires empha-
sis, is that virtually all recent populations use it for at least
some of these applications and also that among modern
hunter-gatherers, it is used daily and at almost every loca-
tion where people spend any time at all. As such, it repre-
sents one of the premier technological advances of humans.
Given its fundamental importance to the successful adapta-
tions of modern groups, and given the low level of technol-
ogy required to use it, most would expect to see evidence
of widespread use once it became available.
There is no doubt that re was used during the Mousterian,
and even though it is dicult to demonstrate the exact role
that it played in their daily lives, its presence clearly indi-
cates that it provided some benets to those populations.
In fact, of all of the uses of re seen among modern hunter-
gatherers, the only one that can be ruled out, at least on the
basis of data presently available, is its use for heat-treating
int, though it is also most likely that grease rendering and
hide smoking were not practiced as well. While re may
have been used as a source of light, Neandertal cave oc-
cupations are almost universally situated at or very near
the cave mouth (as is the case with Pech de l’Azé IV and
enough wooden implements have been discovered that
their use is reasonably demonstrated (Carbonell and Cas-
tro-Curel 1992; Freeman et al. 1981; Howell 1966; Movius
1950; Oakley et al. 1977; Rolland 1999; Thieme 1999; Vil-
la and Lenoir 2006). However, the use of re to shape or
harden such items has not as yet been conclusively dem-
onstrated for any of these nds. The same is true for heat-
treating int to increase its knapping qualities; there has
been no reported use of heat-treatment in Western Europe
until much later in the Upper Paleolithic, i.e., during the So-
lutrean (Aubry et al. 2003), although elsewhere this practice
may have begun much earlier (Brown et al. 2009).
While some of the above uses of re do not appear to
have been a signicant part of Mousterian adaptation, oth-
er uses may be more dependent on particular circumstanc-
es and needs, and still others may not have been relevant
given the overall level of technological development pres-
ent during the Mousterian. However, two uses of re—for
cooking and for warmth—are (with very rare exceptions)
true universals among humans everywhere, and there are
many reasons to think that they would have represented
major aspects of Neandertal adaptation during Mousterian
Among modern hunter-gatherers, the cooking of meat
and plants (e.g., tubers) over re is essentially a daily ex-
ercise (Binford 1978, 1996; Chambaron 1989; Gould 1971;
Hayden 1981; Mallol et al. 2007; O’Connell 1987). Although
there are examples of forager groups who eat some raw
meat, all known societies cook at least some, if not the ma-
jority, of their meat resources, and the same is true of plant
resources (Wrangham 2009: 30).
Various suggestions have been made in the literature
on the advantages of cooking food. One general sugges-
tion is that by breaking down ber and denaturing plant
and animal tissues, cooking would facilitate the digestive
process and thereby increase, in some cases dramatically,
the nutritional yield of those resources (e.g., Hawkes et al.
1999; Sussman 1987; but see especially Wrangham 2009
and Wrangham et al. 1999). It is also the case that cook-
ing would have opened up a much broader range of plant
foods (Lee and DeVore 1968; Marlowe 2005; Stahl 1984).
Considering that cooking food is universal among his-
toric foragers, this would seem to be a very likely candi-
date for Paleolithic re use. Wrangham, in particular, has
argued for the universal presence of cooking prior to the
Middle Paleolithic (e.g., Wrangham 2009; Wrangham and
Conklin-Briain 2003, Wrangham et al. 1999). Some of these
arguments that relate to the cooking of plant resources may
not be so relevant, however; in spite of some evidence for
the exploitation of plant foods by Neandertals (e.g., Har-
dy 2004; Henry et al. 2011), recent studies of bone isotope
chemistry indicates that Neandertal dietary protein came
predominantly from meat (Bocherens et al. 2005; Richards
and Schmi 2008; Richards et al. 2000).
Unfortunately, it is very dicult to identify positively
whether or not cooking took place. Burned bone is relative-
ly common in Middle Paleolithic site deposits, often associ-
ated with combustion features, and these could potentially
220 PaleoAnthropology 2011
passing. Moreover, the reporting of secondary evidence for
re (such as heated ints and bones) is inconsistent, mean-
ing that when it is not reported it cannot be assumed that
it was not present, and, in other cases, the problem is com-
pounded by the fact that non-re residues were sometimes
mistakenly interpreted as re, as for example at Fontéche-
vade (Chase et al. 2009; Henri-Martin 1957). For all of these
reasons it is very dicult to assess how frequently re was
used by Neandertals and in what contexts.
A second problem that greatly aects our ability to
determine the prevalence of re use is that it is relatively
easy for the primary evidence for res (whether controlled
by hominins or not) to be removed or dispersed due to
post-depositional processes, especially aeolian and alluvial
processes, as well as diagenesis (e.g., Karkanas et al. 2000;
Goldberg and Bar-Yosef 1998; Weiner et al. 2007). This is
especially true in the absence of structures (e.g., pits, stone
barriers) that would provide good indirect evidence of
their former presence.
While there is nothing that can be done at this time to
correct for under-reporting, aention will now be turned to
the data from Roc de Marsal and Pech de l’Azé IV, where
it can be shown that re was rare or absent during many of
the occupations there.
Pech l’Azé IV and Roc de Marsal are two Mousterian cave
sites in the Dordogne region of Southwest France (Figure
1). While both were originally excavated in previous de-
cades, they have been recently re-excavated by the same
multi-disciplinary team using modern approaches and
techniques (Dibble et al. 2004, 2009; Goldberg et al. in
press; McPherron et al. 2001; Sandgathe et al. 2007; Turq
et al. 2008). The span of their occupational histories is very
similar, beginning in mid to late MIS 5 and continuing to
MIS 3, and both contain rich lithic and faunal assemblages.
The recent excavations at Pech de l’Azé IV, or simply Pech
IV (Turq et al. 2008, in press), which took place from 2000–
2004, identied several layers of Mousterian occupation,
with the lowermost Layer 8 lying directly on bedrock (see
Dibble et al. 2009). The lithic component of this assemblage
is relatively rich in scrapers (especially single, double, and
convergent forms), low in notches/denticulates, and also
includes a relatively high Levallois component. This layer
has yielded a mean TL date of 99.9±5.4 kya, which places it
in MIS 5c (Gibbard and Van Kolfschoten 2005; Winograd et
al. 1997). This association of Layer 8 with a warm, humid
climatic regime is supported by the fauna, which is domi-
nated by red deer (Cervus elaphus) and also has signicant
quantities of roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) and wild pig
(Sus scrofa), and includes beaver (Castor ber) (Dibble et al.
2009; Laquay 1981).
It is in this layer that evidence for re is most abun-
dant. It includes clear charcoal and ash units, burned bone,
Roc de Marsal), not in darkened interiors, and even among
modern hunter-gatherers providing light appears to be a
relatively minor function of re (e.g., Mallol et al. 2007). Of
the other uses, cooking and providing warmth are two that
would appear to be the most likely given the adaptive ad-
vantage that they confer and the fact that these two uses
are fundamental and universal behavioral traits of humans
today. So, given the presence of re in some Mousterian
occupations, should we simply assume that these two basic
functions played a signicant role?
The single biggest problem in making such an assump-
tion is the simple fact that evidence for re in Mousterian
occupations is rather scarce. While there has been evidence
presented for potential re use by hominins well before the
Middle Paleolithic (e.g., Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov) and argu-
ments have been made that this reects routine use of re
throughout the Acheulian (Alperson-Al 2008; 1737–1738),
potential evidence for such early use of re remains scarce
and is still best described as intermient at best, even well
into the Middle Paleolithic. This is not a new observation.
Perlès (1981) noted some time ago that whereas there is a
large number of Middle Paleolithic occupations in higher
latitudes or associated with harsher climatic periods, there
is generally a very small number with evidence for use of
re. In fact, the general paucity of Paleolithic occupations
with re residues prior to 100 kya led her to conclude that
re was not a requisite technology for hominins to move
out of Africa into the cooler latitudes of Eurasia (see also
Cohen-Ofri et al. 2006; Davies and Underdown 2006;
Gowle 2006; James 1989; Roebroeks and Tureau 1999;
Roebroeks and Villa 2011; cf. Alperson-Al 2008; 1737–
1738). Given the ubiquity of re use among essentially all
modern hunter-gatherers—res are truly an important part
of their daily behavior, both year round and in every envi-
ronmental circumstance—then it should be ubiquitous in
Mousterian occupations as well if it were a major part of
their adaptation to the conditions that they faced at that
There are several arguments that could be used to ex-
plain this scarcity. For example, it could be due to a lack
of adequate reporting. As an illustration, a recent compila-
tion by Steenhuyse (personal communication) found that
of 352 Paleolithic sites from southwest France alone that
have been excavated since the middle of the 19th century,
less than ten percent have been adequately published.
Even one of the most prominent prehistorians of the last
century, François Bordes, who excavated at Pech de l’Azé I,
II, III, and IV, Combe Grenal, Corbiac, Roc de Combe, and
other major sites, never adequately published any of them.
Clearly, without access to the detailed results of these ex-
cavations, it is impossible to arrive at an accurate idea of
the prevalence of res. To some extent, the older literature
is likely to be somewhat biased by the fact that for many
archaeologists, once the presence of re during the Mouste-
rian had already been demonstrated, further investigation
of its use during Neandertal times was not a major research
question. Rather, it was assumed to be the case and so ev-
idence for re was under-reported or mentioned only in
Fire in Neandertal Adaptations in Western Europe 221
phosphatization of some ashes is discernible (Dibble et al.
2009; Karkanas et al. 2000).
Subsequent to the deposition of Layer 8 there are
an additional three meters of deposit with evidence of
Neandertal occupation, but little direct evidence of fire.
Layer 7 includes heavily rolled lithics and few surviving
faunal remains; it likely represents a soliuction lobe and
the artifacts are therefore notably edge damaged. For this
reason, this assemblage from this layer is excluded from
subsequent discussion in this paper. Layer 6, on the other
hand, shows lile evidence of post-depositional modica-
tion. It contains a lithic assemblage that the original excava-
tor, Bordes (1975), called the Asinipodian,” which is char-
acterized by several dierent techniques of producing very
small akes, such as truncated-faceted pieces, Kombewa
cores/akes, and very small Levallois cores/akes (Dibble
and McPherron 2006, 2007). It is dominated by red deer
and roe deer and includes wild pig, beaver, and one exam-
ple of Megaloceros sp. (Laquay 1981), which suggests a cor-
relation with a relatively temperate, wooded environment,
most logically MIS 5a. A total of seven TL dates from Layer
6a have yielded an average age of 70.9±3.5 kya (Richter et
burned lithics, and rubeed sediments. In stratigraphic
cross-section (Figure 2), some of the ash-charcoal units
occur mainly as discrete lenses, many with easily dis-
cernible vertical limits. In this regard, these features very
much resemble individual hearths, with several dierent
such features superimposed throughout the layer. How-
ever, aempts to isolate individual combustion features in
plan-view on the excavation surface were not particularly
successful. What appear to be individual features in cross-
section tend to be intercalated and bleed into each other
when exposed horizontally. It appears that these features
were constructed across the ground surface with enough
frequency during subsequent occupations that individual
hearth features blended into each other. However, the fact
that many of the individual ash and charcoal lenses survive
as intact units suggests there was very minimal non-human
post-depositional disturbance, although syn-deposition-
al modications, such as hearth rake out and trampling,
clearly did occur and helped contribute to the ‘blurring ef-
fect’ of individual features. Diagenesis is also quite limited
as original calcareous ash crystals and pockets can be ob-
served microscopically in many of the features, although
Figure 1. Location of the sites discussed in the text.
222 PaleoAnthropology 2011
Roc de Marsal is a small, south-facing cave site in a tribu-
tary valley of the Vézère River, about 20km west of Pech IV
(Sandgathe et al. 2011b; Turq et al. 2008). In the course of
our recent excavations (from 2004–2009), 13 stratigraphic
layers were recognized. At the base, Layers 13 through 10
represent locally mobilized sediments from in situ weather-
ing of the limestone bedrock. Layer 10 contains some lim-
ited archaeological materials (n=129 lithics), but these may
be mostly or entirely intrusive. Artifact densities in Layers
9 through 2 are very high, with over 23,000 lithic artifacts
greater than 2.5cm.
Layers 9 through 5 comprise a single lithostratigraphic
unit with darker anthropogenic components (including
major concentrations of ash and charcoal) interbedded with
lighter sandy sediments. The lithic industries are relatively
low in scrapers and relatively high in Levallois and contain
some Asinipodian elements. Several TL dates (77.4±4.8 kya,
81.4±5.0 kya, and 86.7±5.2 kya) were obtained for burned
sediments from Layer 11. These dates are presumably from
the substrate associated with res from Layer 9 as Layer
11 is sterile and is only separated from Layer 9 by a very
thin (and often non-existent) Layer 10. These dates suggest
that initial occupation occurred in MIS 5a (Sandgathe et al.
2008), which is currently dated to ≈85 to 75 kya (e.g., Dorale
et al. 2010; Lehman et al. 2002; Winograd et al. 1997). The
faunal data indicate temperate conditions, with an abun-
dance of forest species, such as roe deer, along with some
horse (Equus sp.). Reindeer occur to some extent through-
out the sequence and increase through time, but only be-
come signicant from Layer 5 and up. The dominance of
forest adapted species in Layers 9 through 6, along with
the presence of wild pig and the inclusion of eld vole
(Microtus agrestis), garden dormouse (Eliomys quercinus),
and European pine vole (Microtus subterraneus) among the
al. 2010). This date would put the layer in MIS 4, which
in general was a relatively cold period (e.g., Lehman et al.
2002; Winograd et al. 1997), but this is clearly incorrect in
the face of the faunal evidence. The high percentage of roe
deer and the presence of wild pig and beaver, in particular,
exclude the possibility of an association with such an ex-
tremely cold climate. Although Bordes (1975) reports some
limited traces of re residues in this layer, our own excava-
tions did not.
Following another coarse layer (5a), Layer 5b repre-
sents the beginning of major changes in both fauna and the
lithic assemblages. In this layer, reindeer increases, roe deer
decreases, and wild pig disappears, all of which indicate
the onset of a colder period, probably correlating to the be-
ginning of MIS 4; four TL dates for this layer have yielded
an average age of 72.6±4.6 kya (Richter et al. 2010) which
is very much in line with the current dating of the onset of
MIS 4 (e.g., Dorale et al. 2010; Lehman et al. 2002; Wino-
grad et al. 1997). The lithic assemblages become much more
dominated by scrapers, and Levallois technology drops o
signicantly. These trends continue through Layer 4, in
which reindeer becomes the dominant species, and per-
centages of both red deer and roe deer drop signicantly
(Laquay 1981). These changes likely indicate the onset of
much colder and drier conditions, and potentially correlate
with MIS 4. By this time the industry is very rich in scrap-
ers, including many heavily-reduced forms. The nal layer,
subdivided into 3b and 3a, contains a lithic industry that
correlates best with a Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition
with some bifaces and backed knives present, along with
moderate frequencies of scrapers and denticulates. ESR
dates (Turq et al. in press) suggest an age of approximately
47–57 kya and a recent series of AMS dates on bone from
this layer suggest a similar ,though slightly younger, age.
These dates suggest that Layer 3 is associated with MIS 3.
Figure 2. Close-up of a section-view of Layer 8 at Pech de l’Azé IV. Individual lenses of charcoal and charcoal-ash units are visible.
Fire in Neandertal Adaptations in Western Europe 223
paerns in the use of re. Although radiometric dates are
still lacking for the entire sequences at both sites, the dates
that are available, coupled with faunal and other data, can
be used to help correlate the two stratigraphic sequences
with general climatic conditions and potentially with spe-
cic Marine Isotope Stages. Given the dates currently avail-
able, both Pech IV and Roc de Marsal span roughly the
same time period, that is, mid to late MIS 5 through mid to
late MIS 3, although the former appears to have a slightly
longer occupational history, which includes a somewhat
older initial occupation and somewhat later nal occupa-
tions. Regardless of the precise temporal correlation be-
tween the two sites, it is clear that both were initially oc-
cupied during a temperate period that was followed by a
marked deterioration in climate.
At both Roc de Marsal and Pech IV unmistakable hearth fea-
tures occur in their lower layers, and thus clearly indicate
that re was certainly used at this time. In both sites the de-
position of these layers occurred during a time of relatively
warm conditions. But it is equally clear from both sites that
such evidence is much rarer in other occupational layers.
At Roc de Marsal, for example, the lower layers seem to
alternate between those with clear re residues and those
without. Moreover, at both sites, the upper Mousterian lay-
ers (Layers 5 through 4 at Pech IV and Layers 4 through 2 at
Roc de Marsal) contain no identiable re features such as
concentrations of charcoal, or ash, and even the small num-
bers of burned bones and lithics are dispersed throughout
the deposits. At the top of the Pech IV sequence, in Layer 3,
direct evidence for re in the form of very small fragments
(<0.5cm) of charcoal increases a lile, but such fragments
remain exceedingly rare.
There are four possible explanations for the discontinu-
ous evidence for re at these two sites.
1. The rst explanation is that in those layers where
re residues are lacking, various taphonomic
agencies removed them—in other words, that
res were originally there, but direct evidence of
their presence was simply not preserved.
2. There is also the possibility that res occurred in
all occupations, but not necessarily in the parts of
the site that were excavated.
3. Another possibility is that through the sequence
of occupations at the two sites, the range of activ-
ities carried out at the sites varied, and that some
of these activities simply did not require the use
of re.
4. Finally, it could be that the various occupations
of these sites took place during dierent seasons
of the year. During winter occupations the need
for re for warmth may have been greater than
during summer occupations, for example.
rodent species, all suggest a late MIS 5a date (Marquet, in
Sandgathe et al. 2008).
The change to increasingly cold conditions reaches its
maximum in Layers 4–2, which contain a more scraper-rich
set of industries with numerous diagnostic Quina scrap-
ers that are clearly associated with this Bordian industrial
variant. These upper layers also are clearly associated with
a much colder, drier, and more open environment. This is
indicated by a dominance of reindeer and various vole spe-
cies such as the common vole (Microtus arvalis), water vole
(Arvicola terrestris), narrow-headed vole (Microtus gregalis),
snow vole (Chionomys nivalis), and the similar tundra vole
(Microtus malei). A series of ESR dates for the lower part of
Layer 4 (72 to 80 kya) are a reasonable match with a sug-
gested correlation between this layer and the start of MIS 4
(c. 74 kya), whereas a mean ESR date for Layer 2 (the nal
Mousterian layer) of 43.6±2.6 kya suggests the nal Paleo-
lithic occupations occurred during late mid-MIS 3 (Black-
well et. al., in Sandgathe et. al 2008).
As at Pech IV, evidence for in situ hearths is not found
throughout the Roc de Marsal sequence, but rather only
in the earliest layers. This evidence includes discrete char-
coal and ash units, burned/calcined bone, burned lithics,
and rubeed sediments. Layer 10 includes several discrete
patches of rubeed sediments that were separated from
hearths in Layer 9 by a thin layer of un-rubeed sediments.
However, these units lack any associated charcoal, ash, or
burned bone and may represent sediments heated by res
associated with Layer 9, but which were subsequently re-
moved through diagenetic processes such as phosphati-
zation. In Layers 7 and 9, on the other hand, many com-
bustion features are visible and occur as discrete, easily
isolated hearths, many of which contain intact charcoal-ash
units and signicant quantities of burned/calcined bone. In
fact, in both Layers 7 and 9, localized examples of “stacked”
hearths are clearly visible in section view, indicating that
individual hearths were repeatedly constructed in more or
less the same location throughout the duration of each of
these stratigraphic components (Figure 3). However, not all
of the lower layers exhibit direct and intensive evidence for
re, and in fact, such evidence alternates—Layers 5, 7, and
9 are rich in such features, while Layers 6 and 8 have lile
or no evidence for them.
The Roc de Marsal hearths range in diameter from ap-
proximately 50cm to 100cm. There also appears to be a cer-
tain degree of variability in the nature of the residues in
the hearths. Some contain thick (1–2cm) lenses of ash (Fig-
ure 4a) while others lack the ash component and are com-
posed primarily of small (<2cm) fragments of burned bone.
Such dierences likely represent variability in the duration
and intensity of burning events, possible dierences in the
kinds of fuel used, and to some extent, diagenesis. Dieren-
tial degrees of combustion can also be seen within individ-
ual features—in some hearths calcined bone occurs in the
center of the hearth and decreases as one moves towards
the periphery.
As shown in Figure 5, Pech IV and Roc de Marsal over-
lap considerably in time, and they share similar temporal
224 PaleoAnthropology 2011
the archaeological objects that could have removed the re
Further evidence that the lack of res in the upper lay-
ers is not a result of preservation comes from indirect data
that reects the presence of re even when more direct
evidence of actual re residues are missing. These data in-
clude int and bone, both of which undergo macroscopic
changes when exposed to sucient heat. Burned int is
readily recognized because of spalling, crazing, luster, and
alteration of color (see Sergant et al. 2006), while burned
bone can vary from slightly charred (black, brown) to cal-
cined (grey, white, blue). Flints and bones are a ubiquitous
component of the sediments at both Pech IV and Roc de
Marsal, as they are at most cave and rockshelter sites in
southwest France, and any re placed directly on these
sediments would have heated the ints and bones directly
under it. In an experiment designed in part to assess the ef-
With regard to this possible explanation, strong arguments
can be made to show that preservation was not a signicant
factor. First, at both sites, well-preserved re residues oc-
cur both just inside the cave mouth as well as beyond what
would have been the driplines at the time of occupation.
Therefore, the degree of overhead cover is not a factor. Sec-
ond, there is no evidence in the form of edge damage on the
lithic artifacts, preferred orientations of objects, winnow-
ing of smaller objects, or micromorphological studies of the
sediments to indicate signicant post-depositional distur-
bance in the upper layers of either site, and there is no evi-
dence that ashes were removed and dumped elsewhere, as
at Kebara (Meignen et al. 2007). To our knowledge, there-
fore, no site formation processes, either through natural or
human agencies, have been identied in the sediments or
Figure 3. a) stratigraphic cross-sections highlighting multiple, stacked, intact combustion features in Layer 7 at Roc de Marsal; b)
stratigraphic cross-sections highlighting multiple, stacked, intact combustion features in Layer 9 at Roc de Marsal.
Fire in Neandertal Adaptations in Western Europe 225
occur starting at 320ºC (Julig et al. 1999: 838 and citations
within; Rolälander 1983). Thus any re activities on the
site should leave secondary traces in the bones and ints
even if neither were directly in the res themselves (see
Callow et al. 1986 for an example of this approach at La
Coe de St. Brelade).
In Pech IV Layer 8, where direct evidence for re is
most abundant, over 20% of the lithic objects and 27.5% of
the bones were burned (Figure 6). This peak coincides di-
rectly with the direct evidence of hearths in this layer. In
the overlying layers, where direct evidence for re is lack-
fects of re on buried bones, Stiner et al. (1995) found that
bones within 5cm of the re surface were visibly altered;
plant charring also can occur centimeters beneath the base
of a combustion event (Sievers and Wadley 2008). Similarly
Werts and Jahren (2007) found that once the water in the
sediment was boiled away, soil temperatures rose in less
than an hour to over 300ºC at a depth of 2–3cm and to over
200ºC at a depth of 3–4cm. Though there is considerable
variability among dierent ints, color changes can be vis-
ible at temperatures starting at 250ºC, luster requires tem-
peratures of approximately 350ºC or more, and crazing can
Figure 4. Roc de Marsal. a) cross-section view of thick, undulating lens of ash in Layer 7 (top of photo); b) oblique view of west half of
Combustion Feature 4 (the half left by J. Lalle, the original excavator of the site) partially excavated in Layer 9. A portion of the ash
component remains on the left, but it has been removed on the right exposing the lower charcoal and burned bone component.
226 PaleoAnthropology 2011
Figure 5. Based on chronometric dates and faunal data from Roc de Marsal and Pech de l’Azé IV. Sequences are positioned here in relation to Marine Isotope Stages and a
generalized description of the associated environments. Shading of the various site components indicates the degree to which re residues are represented (with darker shades
indicating more burning and lighter shades less). (18O curves are drawn from NGRIP and Vostok and Pollen curve is drawn from Lac du Bouchet [Reille and Beaulieu 1990]).
Fire in Neandertal Adaptations in Western Europe 227
heat through the sediments (i.e., the res of Layer 7 modi-
ed some of the underlying lithics of Layer 8; e.g., Sievers
and Wadley, 2008).
Finally, there is no evidence that the frequency of
burned objects is a function of object density. Figure 7 pres-
ents the density (per liter of sediment) for both bones and
lithics from each of the two sites, in comparison with the
overall burning of both of these artifact classes. While both
lithic density and the percentage of burned lithics covary at
Roc de Marsal, the bone density and percentage of burned
bone at that site, and the density of both bones and lithics in
relation to the percentage of them that are burned at Pech
IV, show no relationship.
In summary, both Pech IV and Roc de Marsal exhibit
excellent preservation, and the correlation is high between
the presence or absence of direct evidence for re (i.e., ash,
charcoal or burned bone, rubeed sediments) and the indi-
rect evidence in the form of burned artifacts. This relation-
ship is not surprising given the causal nature of one to the
other, but it means that the presence of re can be detected
even though various taphonomic processes may have oblit-
erated the more direct evidence. Therefore, in the near ab-
sence of both direct and indirect evidence, the conclusion
that re was either absent or, at best, very rarely used dur-
ing some occupations of these two sites is much stronger
than it would be by relying on the direct evidence alone.
ing, the percentages of both burned int and bone begins
to drop and falls to less than 1% for the remaining upper
layers, except for a slight rise at the very top of the sequence
(where, as noted above, charcoal ecks were found during
excavation). Likewise, at Roc de Marsal, Layer 9 has nearly
30% burned pieces among the lithic objects accompanied by
17.2% of burned bone fragments (n=1922). There is another,
though smaller, spike for Layer 7 where over 15% (see Fig-
ure 6) of the lithics are burned. During the occupations of
Layers 2–4, however, the amount falls again to 1–2%. The
numbers are not a function of varying sample size. The
Pech IV dataset is based on over 10,000 lithic pieces and the
Roc de Marsal sample contains over 23,000 lithics. Layer 4
of Roc de Marsal, which has only 1.3% burned lithic pieces,
has a sample size of 1,833, and Pech IV Layer 3b, which has
0.6% burned lithics, has a sample size of 1,798.
At both sites, the percentage of burned objects, both
lithic and fauna, agrees very closely with the frequency of
more ephemeral, direct re residues (charcoal and ash).
During the later occupations as direct evidence for hearths
disappears completely, the percentages of burned lithics
and fauna decrease to very low levels. Notable exceptions
are Layers 6 and 8 at Roc de Marsal, where the percent-
ages of heated ints remains high even though there are
no direct re residues; this might represent some vertical
movement of lithics or it may represent the movement of
Figure 6. Percentage of burned int and bone by level from Roc de Marsal and Pech de l’Azé IV. Both counts are based on objects
greater than 2.5cm in length and the int includes only proximal and complete pieces (akes, tools, and cores).
228 PaleoAnthropology 2011
other re residues (including burned ints or bones) these
would have been detected. At Pech IV, our own excava-
tions were concentrated on the western section of the site;
that is, the side that is closest to the original (and now col-
lapsed) entrance of the cave (Figures 9a and 9b; Turq et al.
in press). But observation of the eastern section remaining
from the earlier excavation clearly indicates the same level
of burning in the basal deposits, and a similar lack of such
traces in the upper layers. Analysis of Bordes’ (1975) entire
lithic collection, which represents a much larger area than
our own, and analysis of the faunal material from three of
his layers (Bordes’ Y and Z, which together correlate to our
Layer 8, and Bordes’ I2, which most likely correlates to our
Layer 4c—see Turq et al in press) shows an identical pat-
It is not likely that at either site res were constructed at
other, as yet unexcavated, locations during the later occu-
pations. At Roc de Marsal, the majority of the site has now
been excavated (when combining our own excavations with
the previous excavations of Lalle) (Figure 8), and the mor-
phology of the cave in relation to the remaining sediments
from the upper layers makes it essentially impossible that
evidence of re was missed; there is simply very lile left of
the deposits associated with the upper layers. Our own ex-
cavations extended along the entire length of deposits from
well in front of the dripline to the rear of the cave, as well as
laterally across the width of the cave. If there had been any
Figure 7. Density of lithic and bone objects greater than 2.5cm in length, per liter of sediment, compared with percent of burned objects
from Roc de Marsal and Pech IV.
Fire in Neandertal Adaptations in Western Europe 229
Binford 1980). Additionally, most special purpose locations
will only rarely occur at the same location over extended
periods of time (centuries or millennia in the case of Roc de
Marsal and Pech IV) since changes in the localized distribu-
tion of ora and fauna would inevitably vary through time.
It is not even certain that the range of site types during the
Mousterian is very large, considering that Neandertal life-
ways are likely among the more basic of forager adapta-
tions (Binford 1980, but cf. Costamagno et al. 2006). At any
rate, with these limitations in mind, our data do not sug-
gest any signicant dierences in the kinds of behaviors
that took place when res were present versus when they
were absent.
One of the most archaeologically visible types of spe-
cial purpose sites are ungulate kill sites where some ini-
tial butchering and/or processing has been carried out that
results in the deposition of some bones and stone tools. It
should be noted that there is nothing about their seings
(at the base of low clis facing small valleys) that would
suggest Roc de Marsal and Pech IV would be suited to this
kind of activity (see Stiner 1994: 233). Another alternative is
that they were some sort of initial butchering sites associ-
ated with a nearby kill site. This scenario has been argued
to be the best explanation for the Quina Mousterian layers
at Les Pradelles (Costamagno et al. 2006). However, there
are problems with this interpretation for either Pech IV or
Roc de Marsal, and even for Les Pradelles itself. Logisti-
cally, it makes lile sense to move prey carcasses from a
kill site to a whole new location simply to carry out initial
butchering, which takes a relatively short period of time,
especially for medium sized game such as reindeer. This is
supported by available ethnographic examples like the Kua
San (Bartram et al. 1991) and Hadza (Marlowe 2010), which
show that modern hunter-gatherers generally take game
carcasses directly back to camp from the kill site whole, if
they are small enough, or cut into manageable portions, if
they are larger. The remaining possibility is that these sites
served as base/residential camps.
One way to test for site function is to examine the skel-
etal compositions of the prey species left at the site. If the
functions of the sites were dierent during occupations
with signicant evidence for re and versus those without
re, then we would expect to see dierences in the general
composition of the faunal assemblages. This is not the case,
however. As illustrated in Figure 11, an evaluation of the
“high survival elements” (i.e., those less prone to density-
mediated destruction; see Marean and Cleghorn 2003) from
large cervids (red deer and reindeer ) show that the overall
frequencies of the boney parts of the cranium and mandible
plus fore- and hindlimb long bones were consistent over
time at Pech IV. Although the data are available for only
two layers (4 and 9) from Roc de Marsal, a similar lack of
change is apparent, even though the two layers represent
the extremes in terms of absence or presence of re, respec-
tively. In both cases, low utility heads were transported to
the cave in much smaller numbers than the nutritionally-
rich long bones for butchering and consumption. This is the
paern that would be expected if these sites were used as
tern of decreasing percentages of burned lithics and faunal
fragments through the sequence (Figure 10). Between the
two excavations, however, it is clear from topographic re-
lief that the central area of the deposits was excavated. The
remaining, unexcavated deposits associated with the upper
layers (Layers 4 through 1) represent a very small area of
the site. Realistically it is highly unlikely that res could
have been constructed in these remaining areas without
resulting in residues (even if only burned lithics) bleeding
into the adjacent excavated areas.
Another possible explanation for the variability in frequen-
cy of re evidence—either direct or indirect—is that it re-
ects changes in the way these two sites were being used
in their later occupations, and that these later activities did
not require the use of re.
Based on ethnographic data (e.g., Bartram et al. 1991;
Binford 1978, 1980; Hayden 1981; Kelly 1995; Marlowe
2010), there is a very limited number of dierent site types,
beyond basic residential or base camps, that may have ex-
isted in the western European Mousterian, and certainly
some types of sites, mainly variations on special purpose/
resource extraction locations, will leave lile, if any, signa-
ture in the archaeological record (e.g., Bartram et al. 1991;
Figure 8. Map of Roc de Marsal indicating the extent of both
Lalle’s and our excavations. As is clear, because such a large
percentage of the site was excavated, it is very unlikely that there
are any areas of the site where evidence of re residues could re-
main undetected.
230 PaleoAnthropology 2011
Figure 9. a) Units excavated by Mortureux, F. Bordes, and by us at Pech de l’Azé IV; b) placement of the site relative to the cli behind and the steep slope of the valley in front
of the terrace. Also shown are the extent of all Layer 8 deposits and the extent of burned ints and re residues within Layer 8.
Fire in Neandertal Adaptations in Western Europe 231
been oered that are not activity based (Bordes 1961, 1973;
Bordes and de Sonneville-Bordes 1970; Dibble and Rolland
1992; Mellars 1965, 1969, 1986, 1988; Rolland and Dibble
In Figure 12 are displayed the relative proportions of
notched tools, scrapers, and other retouched pieces, plot-
ted against the percentages of burned lithics. At Pech IV, in
Layer 8, which exhibits the highest degree of burning, the
composition of the retouched tools is virtually identical to
that of other layers, such as 4a through 5b, which exhibit
very lile burning. While the exact typological composi-
tion among the scrapers changes a bit between these layers,
most of this can easily be accounted for by varying degrees
of reduction (Dibble 1995; Dibble and Rolland 1992; Dibble
et al. 2009), and thus has lile to do with function per se. It
is also clear that none of the occupations of either Roc de
Marsal or Pech IV reect specialized raw material procure-
ment activities, and in all of these layers there is evidence
that both core reduction and tool production were taking
place. Like most western European Mousterian sites, there
is a full range of types represented (Debénath and Dibble
1994), and there is no single type or type class that is clear-
ly associated with re. Unfortunately, it is also a fact that
we are currently unable to link any of these lithic types to
specic functions, which means that any argument that
ascribes specic activities to these various assemblages
would be unfounded.
Together, all of these arguments based on both the
lithic and faunal data suggest that the presence or absence
of res is not a reection of dierences in the site use. The
most parsimonious explanation in the face of the ethno-
graphic data and what we see at Pech IV and Roc de Mar-
sal is that both sites served generally as base or residential
camps, and there is nothing to suggest that this function
changed signicantly throughout their occupational histo-
Unfortunately, there are presently no data concerning sea-
sonality at Roc de Marsal, but those that are available for
Pech IV show a mixed paern (Table 2). There are, for ex-
ample, occupations year-round in Layer 8, which exhibits
the highest frequency of burning, and there is evidence
for winter occupation through Layer 5a, by which time
evidence for re is greatly diminished. As yet we cannot
exclude the possibility that the other non-re occupations
were limited to summer months, but given the long tem-
poral span of these deposits, it would seem unlikely that
occupations took place only during warm months for many
tens of millennia. That said, conditions during even the
warm months of MIS 4 were still far cooler than today’s
and, again, modern hunter-gatherers in even substantially
warmer environments still rely on re to warm themselves,
especially at night.
In summary, it is clear at both Roc de Marsal and Pech IV
base/residential camps.
This interpretation is further supported by the fact
that there are signicant concentrations of heavily butch-
ered faunal remains, as reected by proportion of percus-
sion marks on marrow-yielding long bones at both sites
through time. For example, at Roc de Marsal, 20.5% of the
long bones in Layer 4 show percussion marks, while 13.1%
show them in Layer 9; at Pech IV, faunal material show be-
tween 19.8% and 38.2% from Layer 4, and 2.4% and 34.8%
from Layer 8 (Bordes’ excavations and newly excavated
material, respectively). Clearly, at both sites, and in layers
that both do and do not yield evidence of re, the hominins
were using the caves as a butchering site. Again, this fact
makes it dicult to argue that the upper layers of either site
were occupied for the purpose of engaging in specialized
activities that made the use of re less necessary or likely.
In terms of the lithic evidence for site function, again
there is nothing that suggests major changes in how the
site was used during the various occupations. While there
is both typological and technological variation in the lithic
assemblages, after 50 years of debate there is still no con-
sensus as to exactly what gives rise to it. While site function
has been advanced as one possible explanation (Binford
1973; Binford and Binford 1966), other explanations have
Figure 10. Percentage of burned ints (platform-bearing akes)
in Bordes’ assemblages from Pech de l’Azé IV.
232 PaleoAnthropology 2011
infrequent, if not entirely absent, during long periods of
What are these results telling us about the role of re
as part of the overall Neandertal adaptation to the condi-
tions present during their occupation of Western Europe?
As discussed above, modern hunter-gatherers use re for
a variety of things, and two of the most important are for
warmth and cooking. Again, these are activities that take
place almost daily. Thus, one of the most interesting pat-
terns to emerge from these Mousterian sites is that the use
of re was greatest during temperate climates, and that its
use decreased dramatically during colder conditions. The
extreme scarcity or even absence of evidence for re in oc-
cupations associated with colder times is also noted at the
site of Combe-Capelle Bas, which was excavated and ana-
lyzed using identical techniques. Here too, there was no di-
that re was being used frequently and/or intensely during
their earlier occupations, but this use drops to near zero
in their upper occupations. These paerns cannot be ex-
plained through taphonomy, sampling bias, site function,
or seasonality. In spite of the fact that arguments based on
negative evidence are fraught with problems, it is dicult
in this case not to conclude that the scarcity of evidence
for re in some layers accurately reects the infrequent use
of re during occupations associated with those layers. For
some layers, the very low percentages as well as the simple
counts of burned lithics mean that there had to have been
some occupations associated with these layers that resulted
in no burned lithics. For example, Layer 3b at Pech IV is a
relatively thick deposit and must span at least centuries. It
includes multiple occupations and yet only 30 lithics were
burned (out of a total of 2,851). Use of re was clearly very
Figure 11. Skeletal element frequency of large cervids (red deer, reindeer) expressed as %NISP for skull, fore- and hindlimb long bones
analyzed from Pech de l’Aze IV (top) and Roc de Marsal (boom), ploed against the percentage of burned lithics found in each level.
Teeth and small limb bones (e.g., carpals, tarsals, feet) excluded.
Fire in Neandertal Adaptations in Western Europe 233
anatomically modern humans were relative newcomers
to higher latitudes, and not surprisingly later European
Upper Paleolithic occupations exhibit much more re use
when climatic conditions were the most extreme during
the last glacial cycle (Théry-Parisot 2002). The Neander-
tals and their ancestors, on the other hand, had a potential
time depth in Europe of at least several hundred thousand
years and during several of the climatic oscillations of the
Pleistocene. While it is possible that Neandertal popula-
tions migrated to some extent in response to major climatic
changes and did not always inhabit the most northerly
European latitudes during colder periods (e.g., Roebroeks
2006; Steegmann et al. 2002), the presence of occupations in
Europe during full glacial conditions indicates that Nean-
dertals were adapted to such conditions. The question is: to
what extent was theirs a physiological adaptation versus a
cultural/technological one? Although there is ongoing dis-
cussion about how much of the dierence in morphology
between Neandertals and their African contemporaries is
rect evidence of re residues and the percentage of burned
ints remained at <2% for the entire sequence (Dibble and
Lenoir 1995). This site has been dated to MIS 3 (Valladas et
al. 2003), and is thus contemporary with the non-re occu-
pations from Pech IV and Roc de Marsal. Similarly, in the
Quina Mousterian levels at Jonzac (Jaubert et al. 2008) and
La Quina (Bierwirth 1996; McPherron et al. n.d.), neither
of which have direct dates but both of which are associ-
ated with very high percentages of reindeer, the percentage
of heated ints is less than 0.5%. In the overlying levels at
these two sites heated ints are never more than 4% of the
assemblage and are generally much less.
Thus, the paern of infrequent res during colder
periods extends beyond Roc de Marsal and Pech IV, and
together this strongly argues against the notion that re
was used primarily for warmth. We know that it would
be impossible for modern human foragers to inhabit more
northerly latitudes without re, even if they had extremely
sophisticated clothing and shelter technology. However,
Figure 12. Relative percentages of major classes of retouched tools ploed against the percentage of burned lithics found in each level
of Roc de Marsal and Pech IV.
234 PaleoAnthropology 2011
due to active selective pressures or to random genetic drift,
it has long been accepted that Neandertals do exhibit sig-
nicant cold-adapted features, such as their short, squat,
heavy bodies with shorter, stockier limbs (e.g., Holliday
1997; Ru 1993; Steegmann et al. 2002; Trinkaus 1981).
Cooking is the other daily use of re among modern
hunter-gatherers, and again, the extreme scarcity or even
absence of re during the repeated occupations of these
Mousterian sites over signicant periods of time suggests
that cooking may not have been nearly as ubiquitous as is
sometimes believed. This would have signicant implica-
tions for Neandertal energetics, which is an area where
Neandertals diered signicantly from anatomically mod-
ern humans and it may have behavioral consequences
that played a role in the replacement of the former by the
laer. It is argued that due to their larger body mass and
unique shape, Neandertals would have had a higher bas-
al metabolic rate than anatomically modern humans and
therefore a proportionally larger total energy expenditure
(e.g., Aiello and Wheeler 2003; Sorenson and Leonard 2001;
Steegmann et al. 2002). Conservative estimates suggest a
10% dierence between Neandertals and middle Upper
Paleolithic humans (Churchill and Rhodes 2009; Froehle
and Churchill 2009; MacDonald et al. 2009). This estimate
is based on the premise that Neandertals and anatomically
modern humans derived the same caloric benets from the
food consumed, and it means that if Neandertals and early
anatomically modern humans had the same diet compo-
sition, Neandertals would have been obliged to consume
more. This in turn may have necessitated more frequent
moves (Macdonald et al. 2009). Moreover, given that cook-
ing raises the nutritional and energetic value of food (e.g.,
Carmody and Wrangham 2009; Wrangham 2009), then an
inability to cook their food for extended periods would fur-
ther increase the amount of food that was needed to be in-
gested by Neandertals to meet their daily energetic needs.
Lower overall energy requirements could have given ana-
tomically modern humans competitive advantages over
the Neandertals in terms of reproductive success and de-
mographic expansion (Froehle and Churchill 2009).
It is clear that the evidence from these few sites cannot
easily be applied to an entire region, and it is important to
emphasize that we are not arguing that the western Euro-
pean Neandertals always ate raw food and never used re
for heat. Clearly, there is no doubt that they did use re
extensively at certain times, as the hearths at Roc de Marsal
and Pech IV demonstrate. Just as clearly, however, these
sites also show that there were other times when Neander-
tals did not use re to a signicant degree. This brings us
back to the assumption behind the opening quote relating
the myth of Prometheus—that once the technology for con-
trolling re was developed, its use must have immediately
become widespread and that its benets would be enjoyed
all of the time. In the case of re, if one accepts the evidence
for controlled use of re at Gesher Benot Ya’aqov (Alper-
son-Al 2008; Goren-Inbar et al. 2004) at approximately 800
kya, it means that thereafter re would have become an im-
mutable part of the hominin behavioral repertoire. Yet in
spite of the fact that Neandertals knew about re, brought
it into their sites, and presumably were able to maintain
it over signicant periods of time, they did not do so all
the time, and especially when climatic conditions were the
It might be tempting to explain the absence of re dur-
ing colder periods as being due to a lack of availability of
fuels. It is apparent from long pollen records (e.g., Grande
Pile, Les Echets, le Bouchet; [Guiot et al. 1989, 1993; Pons et
al. 1992; Reille and De Beaulieu 1990; Woillard 1978]) that
wood would have been relatively scarce during colder cli-
matic periods such as MIS 4, when the environment was
generally open and dominated by grasses (e.g., Van Andel
and Tzedekis 1996: 491). Perhaps, then, the absence of wood
as a fuel led to a much decreased frequency and duration
of re use during colder periods. There are, however, two
Layer Spring Spring/Summer Summer Summer/Fall Fall Winter
3B horse
4A reindeer reindeer
4B reindeer
4C reindeer reindeer
5A reindeer reindeer
6A red deer/boar red deer red deer
6B red
deer/boar boar red deer
8 boar red deer red deer red
Fire in Neandertal Adaptations in Western Europe 235
arguments against this explanation. First, even during ex-
treme cold periods there were always some trees around,
though likely restricted mainly to river valleys. The second
argument is even stronger, however; bone can also be used
as fuel, and even though recent experiments have indicated
that some wood is needed initially to start bone burning,
once started it burns quite well (Théry-Parisot and Costa-
magno 2005). Clearly, Mousterian sites generally contain
large quantities of bone, and at Pech IV, Layer 8, it was de-
nitely used as fuel (Dibble et al. 2009). This situation indi-
cates that availability of wood, while perhaps playing a role
in the use of re, was not a major factor.
A second possible explanation for the absence or scar-
city of res is that European Neandertals did not know
how to make re, even though they knew how to control it
by adding fuel, limiting its spread within a site, and trans-
porting it. At rst glance, this possibility may seem remote,
since the common methods used by recent hunter-gather-
ers to produce re, such as re drills, are relatively simple
and res are easily started—among the Hadza, for example,
hunters will construct res simply to light their cigarees
(Mallol et al. 2007: 2). Yet as simple as it is once one knows
how to do it, the production of re is not something that is
an obvious result of rubbing two sticks together or strik-
ing two specic kinds of rocks together. Furthermore, just
carrying out these behaviors casually or for other intended
purposes (e.g., shaping wooden objects or aking stone)
will not, by themselves, result in the production of re.
However, res do occur relatively frequently in nature,
from lightning strikes, volcanoes, meteorites (Halliday et
al. 1984), and spontaneous combustion in organic depos-
its (e.g., bat guano in caves). Of these, natural res result-
ing from lightning strikes are the most common and occur
over wide areas, though they occur most frequently in ar-
eas and during climatic periods that are warm and humid
(Figure 13). Lightning frequency is directly related to tem-
perature and humidity and drops signicantly in cold dry
climatic conditions (Rakov and Uman 2003). Interestingly,
the relationship between climate and lightning frequency
matches what the data show is the case during the Mouste-
rian, namely less re in cold/dry periods and more during
warm/humid ones.
A reliance on natural res by Western European Nean-
dertals resolves many of the contradictions that are appar-
ent in the present review concerning the use of re by Euro-
pean Neandertals. There is no doubt that harvesting natural
re is simpler than making it, and natural res would be
easy to spot even from considerable distance. Puing aside
anecdotes regarding the lighting of cigarees, even among
ethnographic hunter-gatherers who do possess re mak-
ing technology, re curation and transport is a relatively
common approach to re management (e.g., Turnbull
1962). Prue and LaDuke (2010) have argued that there are
three distinct cognitive stages in the control of re, begin-
ning with conceptualization (understanding how res be-
have and how to predict their movement), then learning
how to control re (how to contain it, keep it going, and
put it out), and nally, developing the technology to make
it. Quite clearly, it is not at all inconceivable that learning
how to control and exploit natural res is a necessary rst
step to developing the technology necessary to make it, and
there is no reason to assume a priori that full pyrotechnol-
ogy developed simultaneously with the rst use of re by
early hominins. As discussed above, the earliest evidence
for the use of re extends far back in prehistory, and since
that time it was likely a desired resource that, when avail-
able, was used for a variety of things, including cooking
and warmth.
The use of re itself may indeed have started as a gift
from the gods, but it took humans to develop the technol-
ogy to make it at will; the question before us now is when
and where did our ancestors develop that technology.
Clearly, this is not a statement regarding the intelligence of
European Neandertals any more than their lack of ceramic
or metal technology indicates that they lacked the cognitive
ability of modern humans.
This paper has presented detailed data concerning the vari-
ability in the presence, and especially the extreme scarcity
or absence, of re at two Mousterian sites in southwest
France. Because direct evidence of re is subject to a myr-
iad of taphonomic issues that may prevent it from being
preserved in the archaeological record, one of our primary
goals was to determine if the absence of in situ evidence
for re in certain occupation levels at these sites was an ar-
tifact of preservation, or whether it accurately reects the
absence of re itself. By using data such as the frequency
of burning on both faunal and lithic objects, it was shown
that the scarcity of re in some layers of either site does not
reect dierential preservation, and furthermore, that the
scarcity of re evidence was not due to sampling bias, site
function, intensity of occupation, or season of occupation.
Instead, the only paern that was found to be associated
with variability in frequency of re residues was the overall
climate, in that occupations during colder times are gener-
ally characterized by its rarity or complete absence.
In reviewing the evidence on re use by modern hunt-
er-gatherers, it became clear that these ndings raised an
apparent contradiction. Modern hunter-gatherers use re
virtually all of the time, in a wide variety of circumstances,
and for a wide range of reasons. European Neandertals did
not seem to follow this paern, even for such basic uses as
cooking or for warmth, in spite of the fact that they clearly
had at least some control of re as evidenced by the un-
questionable hearths at Roc de Marsal and Pech IV. This
contradiction is resolved, however, if we consider the pos-
sibility that the Neandertals who lived there simply lacked
the ability to make re, relying instead on the occurrence
of natural res across the landscape. The most common
source of natural res is from lightning strikes, although
the frequency of lightning is much higher during warm
and humid conditions than it is during periods that are cold
and dry. Thus, if Neandertals did lack the technology to
create re at will, then the decrease in natural res during
cold climates is a natural consequence. This interpretation
236 PaleoAnthropology 2011
Figure 13. Average yearly counts of lightning ashes per square kilometer. These data were collected by NASA satellites between 1995 and 2002. Image by NASA.
Fire in Neandertal Adaptations in Western Europe 237
has no implied relation to dierences in cognitive abilities
between Neandertals and modern humans. In fact, there
are examples of very recent hunter-gatherers who lacked
the knowledge of how to produce re (e.g., Hill et. al. 2011:
1288; Stearman 1991: 250) and furthermore, as is true of all
innovations, the fact that some populations lack a particu-
lar technology, such as the absence of wheeled vehicles in
the Americas, does not imply intellectual inferiority.
Admiedly, the data presented here come from very
few sites, but the fact is that such high resolution data are
generally not available. Many authors simply report—
sometimes mistakenly—on the presence of re residues,
and there are few aempts to quantify the occurrence of
re or to use other data, such as burned objects, that may
reect more accurately both presence and absence of re
in the Mousterian. Until we have more data, it is impos-
sible to demonstrate conclusively the ways that Neander-
tals used re, or whether they knew how to make it. On
the other hand, the data that are available do present un-
expected paerns, and therefore oer some directions for
future research. If that research shows that res are indeed
rare at many Mousterian sites, then it suggests that re
did not play a signicant role in Neandertal adaptions to
their local environmental situations, even though it was
used occasionally. If we continue to nd that res during
the Mousterian are more frequent during temperate con-
ditions and less frequent during colder climates, then that
will then support the conclusion that natural res resulting
from lightning strikes were being exploited by Neander-
tals. On the other hand, future research may show that res
were ubiquitous throughout the period of the Mousterian,
and that the paerns presented here for Roc de Marsal and
Pech IV reect some local situation that was particular to
those two sites. Clearly, however, such eorts will require
archaeologists to begin collecting and reporting more sys-
tematically both direct and indirect evidence of res (see
Sergant et al. 2006). Furthermore, evidence from Neander-
tal sites outside of Western Europe, such as in the Levant
(e.g., Meignen et al. 2007), show an intensity of re use that
is much more in keeping with modern hunter-gatherers.
Thus, the paerns reported on here quite possibly repre-
sent regional variation of culture and behavior, and not a
behavioral paern that is linked specically to Neandertals
in general.
Financial support for research in this paper was provided
by the US National Science Foundation (Grants #0917739
and #0551927), the Leakey Foundation, and the Universi-
ty of Pennsylvania Research Foundation. W. Flint Dibble
provided the original translation of Hesiod in the opening
quote. This paper also was signicantly improved follow-
ing comments provided by the journal editorial sta and
two anonymous reviewers.
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... 112 aspekt njihovog ponašanja'. 113 Oni sugerišu da neandertalci nisu imali sposobnost pravljenja vatre i da su bili prisiljeni da se oslone na prirodne pojave vatre poput udara groma. Pozivajući se na dokaze da je učestalost munje u pozitivnoj korelaciji sa atmosferskom temperaturom i vlagom, 114 zaključuju 115 da bi smanjena učestalost udara groma tokom najhladnijeg i najsušnijeg perioda nastanjivanja ova dva lokaliteta ozbiljno ograničila pristup neandertalcima vatri, što objašnjava njeno skoro odsustvo u arheološkim naslagama povezanim s tim vremenskim razdobljima. ...
... 120 Iako su nedavna kritička ispitivanja dokaza o postojanju vatre u arheološkim nalazima pokazala da Dibl, zaključuju da za neandertalce u toj regiji 'upotreba vatre nije bila važan aspekt njihovog ponašanja'. 113 Oni sugerišu da neandertalci nisu imali sposobnost pravljenja vatre i da su bili prisiljeni da se oslone na prirodne pojave vatre poput udara groma. Pozivajući se na dokaze da je učestalost munje u pozitivnoj korelaciji sa atmosferskom temperaturom i vlagom, 114 zaključuju 115 da bi smanjena učestalost udara groma tokom najhladnijeg i najsušnijeg perioda nastanjivanja ova dva lokaliteta ozbiljno ograničila pristup neandertalcima vatri, što objašnjava njeno skoro odsustvo u arheološkim naslagama povezanim s tim vremenskim razdobljima. ...
The rockshelter of Crvena Stijena (Nikšić municipality, Montenegro) is one of the most important Paleolithic sites in southeastern Europe. Its 20-meter deep sequence of archaeological deposits spans the Middle Paleolithic through the Bronze Age. The Middle Paleolithic deposits themselves, which cover an astonishing 12 meters in depth, contain one of the longest records of Neanderthal occupation in the region. Since its discovery in 1954, the site has been the subject of two major research projects; the data they have produced have helped make it a critical type-site for the Paleolithic in the Balkans. In this paper, our goal is to introduce the aims and methodologies of the new research collaboration at Crvena Stijena that we established in 2016. We first present the site within the context of the Middle Paleolithic of the western Balkans. We then describe the history of research at Crvena Stijena, and summarize the results of the last project, which were recently published. Finally, we describe the research questions that are guiding our new investigations, and the methods we are applying in order to answer these questions while preserving as much of the site as possible for future generations of archaeologists.
... Evidence suggests that, within the European context, the habitual control and use of fire became the norm only from the second half of the Middle Pleistocene, around 300-400 ka (Roebroeks and Villa 2011). One of the main points of the debate, besides the ultimate domestication of fire (Roebroeks and Villa 2011;Sandgathe et al. 2011a), concentrates on the kind of relationship Sapiens and Neanderthals had with fire (Dibble et al. 2017(Dibble et al. , 2018bSandgathe et al. 2011a,b;Sorensen 2017). The site of Fumane, which contains numerous combustion features spanning both the Middle and Upper Paleolithic, allows us to investigate the nature of fire use by both Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. ...
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Here we present the results of a microcontextual analysis of purported combustion features recovered from Middle and Upper Paleolithic occupations at the cave site of Fumane, Italy. Our analyses, which integrate micromorphology with organic petrology, show that only a few of the features represent primary, intact hearths; some of them show evidence for various phases of anthropogenic reworking, either through trampling or sweeping and dumping. Several of the features are multi-layered and reflect a complex formation history of various activities related to combustion and site maintenance. Many appear to be the remnants of occupation horizons only partially preserved and peripherally related to combustion. Within several of the intact hearths from the Mousterian, we were able to identify variable fuel sources in different features, implying a degree of flexibility in the fuel-selection strategies of the Neanderthal occupants of Fumane. In this study we design a classification system of the anthropogenic features and also conduct a spatial analysis, through which we can infer diachronic patterns in the frequency and intensity of site occupation and the spatial distribution of activities. We note a decrease in frequency of combustion features throughout the Mousterian which continues into the Uluzzian. The features associated with the Protoaurignacian occupation, in contrast with those from the Mousterian, are multi-layered and well-defined. We argue that these trends, which correspond with other trends in artefact frequency, imply changes in the settlement dynamics of the site during the transition from the last Neanderthal occupation of the cave to the arrival of modern humans.
... For the moment, evidence of their regular use in Europe does not point further back than 400-300 ka. Sandgathe et al. (2011) proposed that, although Neanderthals could occasionally use fire, they did not have the ability to manufacture it from scratch. The proof would be that, during glacial periods, evidence of fire is precisely scarcer in the archeological record. ...
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The Abric Romaní rock-shelter (Capellades, Barcelona) is a key site for studying the use of fire among Neanderthal communities. The evidence of its use, including the identification of heated faunal remains, has led to infer the practice of some domestic activities in the site, such as cooking, use of bones as fuel, or habitat surface cleaning throughout the entire sequence. In the Qa level, dated ca. 58 ky BP, heated bones are characterized by the predominance of brown homogeneous surfaces, a different pattern from those described for the abovementioned activities. Here, an experiment is presented to clarify the domestic activities at the Qa level. We built hearth replicas and heated defleshed shaft fragments in fresh and dry. The recovered fragments were described according to their coloration and spatial relationship in the hearth. Following these parameters, a new classification method of heated bones from archeological sites is proposed: color and its distribution on the bone surface. We detected differences in color depending on whether they were buried or not and whether they were from the center or the peripheral areas. The brown bones with the color homogeneously distributed on their surface were exclusively found on buried heated bones. Compared with the remains from the Qa level, the results suggest that the post-depositional burning of the faunal remains was habitual, which could be related to the overlapping occupations at this level.
... Given the importance of platform profile suggested here, it would be useful to record the plan view profile of striking platforms (e.g., concave, convex, straight, ridged) separately from the platform surface morphology (e.g., plain, dihedral, chapeau de gendarme, etc.) and modification (e.g., facetted). Using existing data collected on a large sample of archaeological flakes from the Middle Paleolithic site of Roc de Marsal (Dordogne, France) [47, 57,58], Fig 8 plots the distribution of the flake PW-PD ratio, the elongation ratio and the flake surface area to thickness ratio by a general classification of platform profile. Matching our predictions, the flakes with a concave platform profile tend to have a higher PW-PD ratio and a higher flake surface area to thickness ratio, while those with a ridged platform profile have the lowest PW-PD ratio but the highest elongation ratio. ...
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To understand the ways in which past stone knappers controlled the morphology of the flakes they produced, archaeologists have focused on examining the effects of striking platform attributes on flake size and shape. Among the variables commonly considered, platform width has routinely been noted to correlate with flake size and hence used to explain past knapping behaviors. Yet, the influence of platform width on flake variation remains equivocal due to the fact that the attribute is not under the direct control of the knapper. Instead, platform width tends to be treated as a by-product of other independent knapping parameters, such as platform depth. In this study, we hypothesize that platform width acts as an intermediary that intervenes the effect of other independent variables on flake attributes. By analyzing experimental flakes produced under both controlled and replicative settings, the results support the hypothesis that platform width mediates the effect of platform depth on flake width, such that flakes with relatively larger platform widths are generally wider but no longer. This finding provides a way to incorporate platform width into discussions of the interrelationships among knapping variables, and highlights the importance of platform width for investigating how past knappers controlled flake production through platform manipulation.
... This microcontextual approach is especially necessary in contexts when connecting fire to hominin behavior is unknown or unclear [90]. Hypotheses regarding the ubiquity of fire use by hominins is currently under investigation, with habitual fire use by Neanderthals during cold and arid climatic episodes being called into question by some [91], and others noting that the energetic costs of producing and maintaining fire might be substantial in an environment where fuel is lacking [92,93]. Even though fire is largely expected to be an integral In the Ikh-Tolborin-Gol, a wealth of Upper Paleolithic sites documents episodic human occupations from the earliest movements of Homo sapiens across the Eurasian steppe until the Holocene [68,73]. ...
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Structural and thermodynamic factors which may influence burnt bone survivorship in archaeological contexts have not been fully described. A highly controlled experimental reference collection of fresh, modern bone burned in temperature increments 100–1200˚C is presented here to document the changes to bone tissue relevant to preservation using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction. Specific parameters investigated here include the rate of organic loss, amount of bone mineral recrystallization, and average growth in bone mineral crystallite size. An archaeological faunal assemblage ca. 30,000 years ago from Tolbor-17 (Mongolia) is additionally considered to confirm visibility of changes seen in the modern reference sample and to relate structural changes to commonly used zooarchaeological scales of burning intensity. The timing of our results indicates that the loss of organic components in both modern and archaeological bone burnt to temperatures up to 700˚C are not accompanied by growth changes in the average crystallite size of bone mineral bioapatite, leaving the small and reactive bioapatite crystals of charred and carbonized bone exposed to diagenetic agents in depositional contexts. For bones burnt to temperatures of 700˚C and above, two major increases in average crystallite size are noted which effectively decrease the available surface area of bone mineral crystals, decreasing reactivity and offering greater thermodynamic stability despite the mechanical fragility of calcined bone. We discuss the archaeological implications of these observations within the context of Tolbor-17 and the challenges of identifying anthropogenic fire.
... [31][32][33] Tolerance towards cold in our species since the Palaeolithic appears to have been mostly dependent on behavioural support, evidenced in the archaeological record for example by specialised cold weather clothing and fire making. [34][35][36] The generally increasing reliance on cultural buffers in the recent evolution of our species likely lead to a general relaxation of selection pressures on anatomical, genetic and physiological adaptations to cope with extreme cold or heat. 37 The 2009 European survey 21 in which heat waves were not mentioned at all as a feared disaster is remarkable given the known risks of heat waves and their substantial impact on the population, in particular in Europe during the year 2003. ...
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Objective To investigate reported extreme temperature-related catastrophic events and associated mortality on the European continent including the Russian Federation. Design Cross-sectional respecting Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) criteria. Settings Data source: Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT). Participants Search criteria: location—European continent including Russian Federation, time—years 1988 until 2019 (close of database 12 July 2019), catastrophic events—extreme temperatures. Primary outcome measures Numbers of heat waves, cold waves, severe winter conditions and associated number of deaths, overall, and per country and year, respecting STROBE criteria. Results The most frequent type of the 243 events recorded in EM-DAT were cold waves (54.7%). However, cold waves and severe winter conditions only accounted for 6460 deaths (4.5%), while heat waves were associated with 137 533 deaths (95.5%). The five most severe heat waves in 2003, 2006, 2010, 2013 and 2015 were associated with a total of 135 089 deaths. The most severe heat waves were geographically distributed over the Russian Federation (2010), as well as France, Italy, Spain and Germany, each in 2003. Conclusion Although cold waves are more frequently reported in EM-DAT, heat waves are the major cause for temperature-related deaths. In order to better protect the public, it is important to address resiliency and vulnerability of populations at risk and age groups.
... Age estimates for controlled use of fire vary from an early Pleistocene origin (c. 2 million years ago; Wrangham, 2009) to 300-400,000 years ago (Roebroeks & Villa, 2011;Shimelmitz et al., 2014;Sorensen, 2017). Some workers suggest that even the latest Neandertals (60-40,000 years ago) did not know how to produce fire and only used it opportunistically, when natural fires made it available (e.g. through lightning strikes, spontaneous combustion of organics, or volcanic action) (Dibble et al., 2018;Sandgathe et al., 2011;contra Sorensen, 2017;Zilhao & Angelucci, 2018). ...
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Throughout (pre)history, non-flint rocks have been used to structure fireplaces, to retain heat, to boil liquids, and to cook food. Thus far, the identification of heated non-flint rocks in archaeological contexts largely depends on a visual (macroscopic) assessment using criteria thought to be diagnostic for thermal alteration. However, visual identification can be subject to observer bias, and some heat-induced traces can be quite difficult to distinguish from other types of weathering or discolouration. In this paper, we present feldspar luminescence analysis as an independent, objective way to identify heated non-flint rocks and to evaluate the results against the established visual macroscopic method for the identification of such pieces. This is done by submitting manuported rocks with and without inferred macroscopic characteristics of heating, originating from the Last Interglacial, Middle Palaeolithic site Neumark-Nord 2/2 (Germany), to feldspar luminescence analysis (pIRIR290). Results of the feldspar luminescence analysis are compared with the visual assessments. This proof of concept study demonstrates the potential of luminescence analyses as an independent, quantitative method for the identification of heated rocks—and their prehistoric applications like hot-stone cooking, specifically for cases where macroscopic assessment cannot provide reliable determinations.
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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.
Whilst several explanations have been proposed for the absence of fire-related behaviours at well preserved Lower Palaeolithic sites, much of the emphasis of previous research has concentrated on our ability to find fire in the archaeological record. Furthermore, evolutionary models of early hominin fire engagement have often been developed and discussed in the context of early African hominins. Here we explore the role of fire in the behaviours, choices and lives of hominins during the earliest occupations of temperate regions, with a focus on Europe. We consider fire use in the context of Europe’s specific palaeoenvironmental conditions and discuss whether a long or short fire chronology model best fits the current evidence for the use of controlled fire in these regions during the Lower Palaeolithic. We propose two models for hominin fire behaviours in the temperate latitudes, using a heuristic ‘macroscale to microscale’ approach to understanding the needs for — and the use of — fire during this period. We argue that such holistic approaches must combine experimental work, experiential observations and cost-benefit approaches and should consider site context and function, fire function, social behaviour, and mobility, to evaluate the limited evidence for fire use in the Lower Palaeolithic. We highlight that, varying with seasonality, fire function (and the associated costs and benefits) was of particular importance and may explain the overall paucity of evidence for fire use in temperate regions prior to the Middle Palaeolithic. This has implications for other potential survival strategies that are invisible in the early archaeological record, such as shelter, clothing, and the putrefaction of meat for later consumption.
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Thermal considerations may help to resolve two of the most challenging problems in palaeolithic archaeology: the demise of Neanderthals and the emergence of modern human behaviour. Each of these enigmas can be viewed as reflecting interactions between biological and behavioural cold adaptations, in the context of extreme climatic fluctuations during the Upper Pleistocene. Recent studies draw attention to the special difficulties posed by these conditions for humans, but few studies give sufficient regard to the need for adequate pre-adaptations, namely, technologies for manufacturing complex clothing assemblages. Here I argue that pre-existing biological adaptations to cold may have delayed the development of such technological capacities among Neanderthals, resulting ultimately in their extinction. In contrast, fully modern humans were biologically more vulnerability to cold, promoting a precocious appearance of behavioural adaptations among some - though not all - groups, visible in the various archaeological markers of modern human behaviour.