Experimenting the Use of Fire in the Operational Chain of Prehistoric Wooden Tools: the Digging Sticks of Poggetti Vecchi (Italy)

Abstract

As known, artefacts made from wood are very rarely encountered in prehistoric deposits due to the low durability of this material. Emergency excavations in the spring of 2012 at Poggetti Vecchi, Central Italy, brought to light an open-air, stratified Palaeolithic site of an overall area of around 160 m2. The finds are radiometrically dated to the late Middle Pleistocene. The site is therefore of particular interest, not only because it offers snapshots of the local environment at a time when early Neanderthals occupied the area but also in view of the recovery of wooden tools. The presence of a burnt film on some of the artefacts has led us to conjecture that, in addition to stone tools, fire was also used in the manufacture of the sticks, as documented in ethnography and hypothesised for prehistoric digging sticks. An experimental study was carried out to reconstruct the operational chain of this kind of tool. This study demonstrates that the use of fire was functional to the manufacture of the sticks featuring this morphology. The working of a very hard wood like Buxus is painstaking and requires a complex operational chain, from the selection of the particular wood to its working employing stone tools and fire, with a significant investment of time and effort.

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Funding

The experimentation of the Poggetti Vecchi wooden tools was funded by the Istituto Italiano di Preistoria e Protostoria (Florence, Italy).

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Correspondence to Anna Revedin.

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Revedin, A., Grimaldi, S., Florindi, S. et al. Experimenting the Use of Fire in the Operational Chain of Prehistoric Wooden Tools: the Digging Sticks of Poggetti Vecchi (Italy). J Paleo Arch 3, 525–536 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41982-019-00043-3

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Keywords

  • Pyrotechnology
  • Wood
  • Early Neanderthals
  • Middle Pleistocene
  • Middle Palaeolithic