Publication Details

Wadley, L., Luong, S., Sievers, C. & Prinsloo, L. (2019). Underground transfer of carbonised organic residues to lithics during preliminary fire experiments: implications for archaeology. Heritage Science, 7 (1), 59-1-59-11.


Using fire experiments, we investigate claims that black organic residues on lithics found in Stone Age sites are markers for heat treatment of rocks in the embers of aboveground wood fires. We buried sedges overlain with lithics and bone to replicate plant bedding sometimes found in archaeological sites. Small fires were lit over the material buried under a mixture of coarse- and medium-grained sand. Black carbonised residues formed on several lithics that were in direct contact with buried sedges that burned below the fire. FTIR, Raman and preliminary GC-MS measurements were made on dried and burnt sedge, burnt bone, and on a prominent black residue that formed on one quartz piece that had been in contact with buried fresh sedge when it was heated. Importantly, we were able to confirm the spontaneous and accidental transfer of organic compounds to lithics buried and heated underground in the presence of plant material. This means that carbonised organic residues are not useful markers for determining whether heat treatment of rocks took place above or below ground. Our preliminary experiments imply that further work should be done to investigate the causes of the residues formed on lithics underground.

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