Insights on Neanderthal fire use at Kebara Cave (Israel) through high resolution study of prehistoric combustion features: evidence from phytoliths and thin sections
Kebara Cave (Mount Carmel, Israel) exhibits extensive use of fire by Neanderthals in the Middle Paleolithic. Phytoliths are abundant, indicating that plants were common in the cave. In addition, micromorphological analyses of archaeological deposits furnish precise contextual background to the phytolith analysis, and provide constraints on how phytolith and other micro remains can be interpreted. Phytolith data are coupled with micromorphological observations from undisturbed combustion features from Kebara from the Middle and Upper Paleolithic. In order to maximize accuracy of interpretations, different factors have been taken into account, such as phytolith preservation, the discrimination between anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic plant deposition, and the variability of plant uses. The results show that dissolution is an important factor in certain areas of the cave, mostly because of high pH conditions, whereas in other areas of the cave, secondary silica has affected the original cell morphology of the phytoliths. In general, wood was the main fuel used for the fires, and the presence of other plant remains such as grasses or dicotyledonous leaves is, in certain areas, mostly related to contamination attached to the bark of the trees; whereas in others, it might be associated with other reasons such as tinder to help start the fires. Seed coats of plants from the Boraginaceae family, which grow around the cave entrance, are abundant in certain levels and mostly related to their fall out at the cave mouth.