Fire and Beyond: a Geoarchaeological Analysis of the Anthropogenic Features from Fumane Cave (NE Italy) and Hohle Fels (SW Germany)

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Dokumentart: PhDThesis
Date: 2023-01-16
Language: English
Faculty: 7 Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Department: Geographie, Geoökologie, Geowissenschaft
Advisor: Conard, Nicholas J. (Prof. Dr.)
Day of Oral Examination: 2022-11-04
DDC Classifikation: 550 - Earth sciences
930 - History of ancient world to ca. 499
Other Keywords: Geoarchäologie
Middle and Upper Palaeolithic
Combustion Features
Fuel Selection
Site Occupation
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Anthropogenic features provide direct evidence of human activities that took place during the occupation of a site and as such are valuable sources of information for inferring past behaviour. Their identification and interpretation is essential for archaeological research, and geoarchaeology has the potential to unravel their nature and place them into context. One of the main goals in the analysis of archaeological features is to investigate the relationship between humans and fire. A major issue in the investigation of human evolution and pyrotechnology is that fire and the ability to produce it are seen by some as one of the primary characteristics that distinguish modern humans from Neanderthals. Around this main debate, other threads open up. In fact, features like hearths can also provide insights into site maintenance, social organization, and settlement dynamics. Here I investigate the anthropogenic features from two important Palaeolithic caves in Europe, Fumane Cave (IT) and Hohle Fels (DE). Both sites cover the transition from the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic, providing the unique opportunity to explore Neanderthal and modern human settlements. First, I analysed the thin sections using micromorphology to understand the nature of the features and their link to human activities. Second, I obtained complete information by applying complementary analyses to selected samples. Third, I executed experimental work on burning bones in a controlled environment to understand better changes in bones heated at low temperatures. The results show a diverse set of anthropogenic features such as hearths, hearth bases, dumps, occupational horizons and laminated/trampled surfaces. Their presence reflects different activities, including combustion and site maintenance/use, carried out by humans within the site. Further, I infer fuel choice, occupation of sites and the mobility of the groups that inhabited them. Fumane Cave and Hohle Fels appear as a complex system of human behaviour based on a close relationship with the surrounding landscape. Finally, experimentation on charred bones reveals the potential of organic petrology in investigating fat-derived char and determining a range of combustion temperatures. This dissertation shows the importance of a micro-contextual approach within archaeological research, the potential of the investigation of anthropogenic features to reconstruct past human activities, and the need to consider them part of the cultural material. An anthropogenic feature is comparable to many other artefacts and must be treated as such to gain information on both natural processes and human behaviour.

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