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Fire: Friend or Fiend in Human History

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Currently in California, fire is seen as a destructive, terrifying force that gobbles up houses and whole neighborhoods, even small towns. Its destructive nature is used as a political pawn in the current struggle between federal and state entities in the US. And yet there is ethnographic and archaeological evidence that pre-European inhabitants of those same forested uplands treated fire as a friend, using it for constructive purposes. It is this ambivalence of our attitudes to fire that is the focus of this presentation. The ambivalence permeates our interpretations of the empirical archaeological and ethnographic records of burning throughout prehistory and history. Was the burning event the result of deliberate human intent or was it accidental? Was the fire friend or fiend? I will explore how archaeologists (especially of prehistoric periods with no access to written records) can and do act as arson investigators many centuries (and millennia) after the event, in order to determine whether the fire was an act of accidental or intentional destruction. Lest my discussion of this fascinating topic gets out of control, I focus it on the example of my own collaborative research into the burned houses (so-called “Burned House Horizon”) of Neolithic Southeast Europe and earlier examples in Neolithic Anatolia (Çatalhöyük, Turkey), in order to apply some of what we have learned and consider its significance in terms of the history of how fire has been managed and controlled and why fire is chosen as a means of the destruction of places, be they urban or rural, public monuments or intimate domestic places.

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Fire: Friend or Fiend in Human History

  1. 1. FIRE: FRIEND OR FIEND IN HUMAN HISTORY RuthTringham University of California, Berkeley (Anthropology) presented as the 3rd Annual Pitt-Rivers Lecture, Bournemouth University, 29 October, 2019
  2. 2. FIRE: FRIEND OR FIEND -TWOTALESTO BEGIN Then: Opovo,Serbia 6000 years ago Now: Paradise, California, 2018 My story tonight takes off from two very different ways of looking at fire. As archaeologists, our interpretations of past fire events cannot be separated from our own attitudes to fire. In our minds, fire is full of contradictions and ambivalence. In these two pictures we see two examples of the fearful destructive force of fire, the burned remains of buildings. And as archaeologists the temptation, with our own knowledge of its fearful power is to imagine that something bad happened on the right. But from the image and prehistoric remains on the left, we cannot be sure what happened. That is the glorious ambiguity of the archaeological record.
  3. 3. FIRE IN MODERN URBANTIMES: MOSTLY FIEND AND FEAR Our use of and attitude to fire in modern urban contexts is of ultra-domesticated fire; mostly we have little or no experience of a live flame. Fear of fire is long established in urban contexts. And most of us in this room are from that context and might have the same attitude to fire, and perhaps have good reason to fear it. But in North America even in rural areas, there is a fear of fire - forest or wild fires, this fear was actually encouraged, starting in WW2.
  4. 4. FIRE IN MODERN URBANTIMES: MOSTLY FIEND AND FEAR It was first fueled by Japanese fire balloons in 1944-45, flying at high altitudes across the Pacific, whose aim was to start forest fires in North America. Smoky the Bear encouraged the rural population to watch out for and stop forest fires. In fact this policy of avoiding fires has partly been responsible for the situation we have now in California and elswehere, although higher winds and temperatures of climate change should not be discounted.
  5. 5. FIRETHE FRIEND: DOMESTICATED FIRE Fire is our friend, as long as we control it. To control fire we give it only as much air and food (fuel) that will keep it contained. This is the domestication of fire. A domesticated fire is a friendly warming light-giving fire, contained in its hearth boundary or oven. Under control, fire transforms the material world into edible food, and usable tools and containers that resist water; it can transform soft materials into hard, and hard materials into malleable ones; it cleanses and purifies (or so it seems)
  6. 6. AMBIVALENCE OF FIRE: DESTROYER, CONSUMEER, TRANSFORMER, REJUVENATOR The 2014Yosemite Rim Fire 5 years later But fire is cunning, it can easily become unruly - get out of control. but it is always alive. Even the terrifying aspects of burning landscape (wildfires) can reap the rejuvenating benefits of fire, as here in California where new vegetation sprouts from the ruins of fires five years ago.
  7. 7. INTENTIONAL (PRESCRIBED) LANDSCAPE BURNING Frequent, Low-Severity, Surface, Burns, creates patchwork of Burned Areas. Burned to Clear Areas, Control Insects, Hunting, Productivity of Plants and Animals, Increased Diversity of Indigenous Species, Minimize Risk of Major Fires Modern and Ancient Native Californian model of rotational burning Innes, J., Blackford, J., & Rowley-Conwy, P. (2013). Late Mesolithic and early Neolithic forest disturbance: a high resolution palaeoecological test of human impact hypotheses. Quaternary Science Reviews, 77, 80-100. Mesolithic-Early Neolithic Forest Management, N.Yorkshired Australian Aborigines and indigenous Native Californians, knew how to exploit this characteristic of fire by sequences of controlled or prescribed landscape burning to create a rich patchwork of differently aged vegetation stands to control plant growth and animal food. This practice of rotational fires is now being introduced (with some fear and resistance) to forest management practices of the mainstream in North America. In the pollen cores in the North Yorkshire moors, James Innes and friends (2013) found interesting differences in the use of fire in land management between the Late Mesolithic and Early Neolithic levels, though with the same low impact on forest growth. "The Late Mesolithic phase is defined by the repetitive application of fire to the woodland to encourage a mosaic of productive vegetation regeneration patches, consistent with the promotion of hazel and the expansion of plant species and to aid hunting…..The early Neolithic phase, by contrast, has characteristics consistent with ‘forest farming’, possibly mainly for domestic livestock, including tree girdling and coppice-woodland (sprouting stumps) management, that is at the same time very different from the “Slash-and-burn” preparation of fields traditionally assigned to Neolithic forest management.” This is a topic that needs expansion in a separate lecture.
  8. 8. ARCHITECTURAL FIRES:ARSON,ACCIDENTS,AND DOMITHANASIA Tringham, Ruth (2013) Destruction of Places by Fire: Domicide or Domithanasia. In Destruction:Archaeological, Philological, and Historical Perspectives, edited by J. Driessen, pp. 89-108. Presses Universitaires de Louvain, Belgium In this lecture, however, my focus will be on architectural fires. In modern urban contexts, burning your own house is a very unusual event. We - and this includes most archaeologists - are much more familiar with buildings that burn by accident or intentionally by arson, warfare, and domicide. I coined the term “Domithanasia” to express the idea that residents or their friends or agents, might burn down their own house. I wanted to entertain archaeologists with the idea that this could be a recognizable tradition, and to encourage them to imagine (or look for in ethnographic literature) what could motivate such an action. This was in preparation to consider an alternative to the traditional interpretations of and preconceptions about the burned Neolithic buildings of southeast Europe.
  9. 9. ARCHITECTURAL BURNING INTHE AGE OF CLAY 5000-3000 BC Gomolava, Serbia Opovo, Serbia wattling in wattle- and-daub architecture By far the most obvious and permanent by-product of the burning of a wattle-and-daub building is the bright orange and red rubble of the burned clay daub itself. What do we archaeologists think when we come across a mass of burned rubble? If we’re in Southeast Europe, we leap with joy, because this promises an opportunity for very good preservation amongst the rubble of Neolithic domestic contents, furniture, floors. Why the house burned, and how, was not a priority topic for investigation. At least that is how I felt in my introduction to Neolithic fieldwork in Serbia at Selevac in 1976. And I believe I am not alone. At that time (and to a certain extent it may still be true) in our modern urban attitude to fire, if we thought anything about the fire events themselves, we thought something bad must have happened.
  10. 10. ARCHITECTURAL BURNING INTHE AGE OF CLAY 5000-3000 BC Divostin, Serbia Alan McPherron Reconstruction of Divostin house by Catherine Changarchaeomagnetic survey Archaeomagnetism was brought to Divostin and Grivac by Alan McPherron in 1969 because burned house remains were expected in a site that had Late Neolithic pottery and rubble fragments on the surface. In their report at that time in which enormous archaeomagnetic signals turned up at both sites, they mention the rows of burned houses but very little beyond that. The excavation that followed in the traditional methodology treated the superstructural rubble as worthless and excavated quickly through it to the floor level. It is extraordinary to read through reports of excavations during the 60s and 70s in which the fact that ALL the architecture is burned is hardly mentioned.
  11. 11. Opovo Selevac Divostin MEETINGTHE BURNED HOUSE HORIZON OF NEOLITHIC SOUTHEAST EUROPE 5000-3000 BC Gomolava Meet the Burned House Horizon at Divostin, Selevac, Opovo, Gomolava and elsewhere
  12. 12. Selevac-Staro Selo, Serbia MEETTHE BURNED HOUSE HORIZON OF NEOLITHIC SOUTHEAST EUROPE 5000-3000 BC During the excavation of Selevac (1976-79), we counted rubble fragments, not out of an interest in burned houses, but because we counted everything (enthusiasm of New Archaeology). But I did start to ask questions about why so many burned houses.
  13. 13. Selevac-Staro Selo, Serbia MEETTHE BURNED HOUSE HORIZON OF NEOLITHIC SOUTHEAST EUROPE 5000-3000 BC At Selevac, we excavated deep in a trench strategy, so that the burned houses we excavated were fragmentary. By the end, however, Mirjana Stevanovic and I started to devise a method to investigate the burning of the wattle-and-daub houses and excavate the rubble systematically. She saw this as the focus of her future career in archaeology.
  14. 14. GomolavaTell, Serbia MEET THE BURNED HOUSE HORIZON OF NEOLITHIC SOUTHEAST EUROPE 5000-3000 BC We began our new strategy at Gomolava in 1980-81 investigating the superstructural rubble, much to the chagrin of those in charge that we were slowing down the progress of getting to the house floors and their wealth of materials. But one of the directors of Gomolava - Bogdan Brukner, - took a risk and in collaboration with Mirjana and me, we designed a project of excavation of a Vinca C culture settlement at Opovo, in which the burned houses would be the predominant focus of our investigation (1983-89).
  15. 15. Still popular explanations of the burned houses: A) they are the result of accidental fires (houses located close (1-1.5 m) to each other; combustible household contents and stored goods) B) they are the result of deliberate fires of aggressive, greedy, jealous, raiding neighbors C) the houses burned in village wide fires MEETTHE BURNED HOUSE HORIZON OF NEOLITHIC SOUTHEAST EUROPE 5000-3000 BC According to my greatest critic, Clemens Lichter, I first used the term Burned House Horizon in1984 (the second year of the Opovo project) at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. I used this term to draw attention to the fact that burned houses with their bright orange and red clay superstructural rubble and floors seemed to be a ubiquitous phenomenon of Mature and Late Neolithic and Eneolithic settlements across most of Southeast Europe. Of course, as with most political statements, I exaggerated that every house was burned, a theme to which I will return later. The chronological and spatial distribution of the tradition for burning houses lies within the large span of time 5000-2800BC. Since the 1980s (and really only in the last 10-15 years) when I first started writing about the BHH, it has become possible to specify its when and where with the increasing abilities of AMS C14 Bayesian modelling (thanks to Alex Bayliss:Times of their Lives project); house burning starts earlier in the west part of Southeast Europe, and lasts longest in its eastern regions. Beyond that we can suggest it starts earlier though infrequently in tell settlements, and reaches extraordinary numbers in the later periods. What is missing is a detailed synthesis of the combined spatio-chronological occurrence of burning events - a nice PhD opportunity for someone. In the original Burned House Horizon manifesto (1984), Mirjana Stevanovic and I argued against jumping to the three most popular explanations of the fires. Although the interpretations have now become better informed, both these explanations still enjoy a certain amount of popularity: A) it is the result of accidental fires (houses located close (1-1.5 m) to each other; combustible household contents and stored goods) B) they are the result of deliberate fires of aggressive, greedy, jealous, raiding neighbors (but what could they gain if everything is burned)? C) the houses burned in village-wide fires
  16. 16. OPOVO-UGAR BAJBUK, SERBIA,1983-89 Opovo, House 1 At Opovo 1983-89, Mirjana Stevanovic and I elaborated the strategy of excavation and analysis that we had begun at Gomolava to investigate the question of whether the fires were accidental or deliberately set, and whether the burning was an event involving multiple houses or a single building. We excavated and mapped the superstructural rubble of the burned wattle-and-daub buildings layer by layer until the underlying floor and all its rich array of ceramics etc. was revealed.
  17. 17. OPOVO-UGAR BAJBUK, SERBIA 1983-89 Opovo, earliest building, House 4 and its fragment of vitrified textile From the first season we retained control profiles that would pass through the burned rubble mass. We were keen to observe the stratigraphic relationship between the different burned houses (in addition to their horizontal overlap) as a means to identifying even slight chronological separation, as a way of distinguishing between multiple and single events. In the 16x20 meter area exposed we identified 3 complete buildings and the corner of a fourth. All fall within the Vinca C period (the earlier part of the BHH) at about 4800-4600 BC. House 4 - the deepest - comprised 2-storeys between which was found a fragment of vitrified linen.
  18. 18. OPOVO-UGAR BAJBUK, SERBIA 1983-89 Opovo, latest buildings, House 1 (far right) and House 2 (left) House 4 was slightly overlapped spatially but not chronologically by two later houses, House 1 and 2 that were almost synchronous. Much of the original rubble from these buildings has been spread around by modern ploughing
  19. 19. OPOVO-UGAR BAJBUK, SERBIA 1983-89 Opovo, the burned house rubble of the intermediate building, House 3 seen in the profile of the east side of the excavated area Between these two building phases was a corner of House 3 that extended beyond the east wall of the excavated area.
  20. 20. OPOVO-UGAR BAJBUK, SERBIA 1983-89 Where the rubble has not been spread by post-Neolithic ploughing, it is clear that it is localized to a square or rectangular area corresponding to the area of a building Where the rubble has not been spread by post-Neolithic ploughing, it is clear that it is localized to a square or rectangular area corresponding to the area of a building, as seen here in House 4. It is this characteristic that has led us to the conclusion that the building walls were collapsed inwards during the conflagration forming a rubble heap on top of their floors.
  21. 21. OPOVO: EXCAVATING BURNED ARCHITECTURE For her dissertation (UC Berkeley 1996), Mirjana Stevanovic mapped the burned rubble of wall collapse and floor(s) and the impressions of the wattle and timber framework captured in the burned clay daub from which to identify its construction role and the process of wall collapse.
  22. 22. OPOVO: EXCAVATING BURNED ARCHITECTURE Daub color analysis and Experimental testing of color changes under different daub matrix and firing conditions. Stevanovic, Mirjana (1997)The Age of Clay:The Social Dynamics of House Destruction. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 16:334-395. She also noted the color of each piece on a Munsell scale from which - thanks to some control experiments on local clays
  23. 23. OPOVO: EXCAVATING BURNED ARCHITECTURE 1000ºC 800ºC 700ºC Profiles through the middle of House 4 showing the vitrified rubble sandwiched between the two storeys from which she could estimate its temperature of firing from 700C to 1100C (vitrification).
  24. 24. OPOVO: INVESTIGATING ARCHITECTURAL FIRES 25 House 1 Fire Map Mirjana Stevanovic: Suggested path and process of the Neolithic house fires Our project at Opovo took the form of an arson investigation in that its ultimate aim was to produce Fire Maps for each burned building. Mirjana was able to create such maps using the data collected in the field which showed in each case the hottest spot was low down on the floor level with a high temperature of 1000ºC or above. Each map followed the fire path from floor to upper parts of the superstructure. House 1
  25. 25. OPOVO: INVESTIGATING ARCHITECTURAL FIRES 26 House 2 Fire Map Mirjana Stevanovic: Suggested path and process of the Neolithic house fires Our project at Opovo took the form of an arson investigation in that its ultimate aim was to produce Fire Maps for each burned building. Mirjana was able to create such maps using the data collected in the field which showed in each case the hottest spot was low down on the floor level with a high temperature of 1000ºC or above. Each map followed the fire path from floor to upper parts of the superstructure. House 2.
  26. 26. OPOVO: INVESTIGATING ARCHITECTURAL FIRES 27 House 3 Fire Map Mirjana Stevanovic: Suggested path and process of the Neolithic house fires Our project at Opovo took the form of an arson investigation in that its ultimate aim was to produce Fire Maps for each burned building. Mirjana was able to create such maps using the data collected in the field which showed in each case the hottest spot was low down on the floor level with a high temperature of 1000ºC or above. Each map followed the fire path from floor to upper parts of the superstructure. House 3.
  27. 27. OPOVO: INVESTIGATING ARCHITECTURAL FIRES 28 House 4 Fire Map Mirjana Stevanovic: Suggested path and process of the Neolithic house fires Our project at Opovo took the form of an arson investigation in that its ultimate aim was to produce Fire Maps for each burned building. Mirjana was able to create such maps using the data collected in the field which showed in each case the hottest spot was low down on the floor level with a high temperature of 1000ºC or above. Each map followed the fire path from floor to upper parts of the superstructure. House 4
  28. 28. OPOVO: INVESTIGATING ARCHITECTURAL FIRES 29 Accidental Deliberate Single Event Village-wide event Mid- Life End of Life The fire maps showed fairly unambiguously that (at least in the houses we investigated at Opovo) each house was burned deliberately as a single event. Later experiments would confirm also what Mira’s research in burning wattle-and-daub houses suggested, that the temperatures at which the houses burned were much too high to have been produced by a fire that was not helped by adding fuel and/or accelerants.
  29. 29. AFTER OPOVO more detailed empirical data about nature of the Neolithic tradition of burning houses in Southeast Europe more data from replica and analytical experiments a broader sample of detailed excavations in other parts of the BHH that focused on the burning events as well as the living house and its construction At the conclusion of the Opovo project with Mirjana’s PhD. dissertation (1996) and article (1997), I felt that we could not go further in our (or anyone’s) investigation of the “Burned House Horizon” without a) more detailed empirical data about the nature of the Neolithic tradition of burning houses throughout Southeast Europe, b) more data from replica and analytical experiments, and c) a broader sample of detailed excavations in other areas of the Burned House Horizon that focused on the burning events as well as the living house and its construction. Much of the rest of this lecture will show that some of that has happened, especially since 2000.
  30. 30. REPLICA EXPERIMENTAL HOUSE-BURNING Vadastra Cucuteni Nebelivka Several researchers in the eastern part of Southeast Europe carried out replica experimental burning
  31. 31. REPLICA EXPERIMENTAL HOUSE-BURNING Vadastra, S.Romania (2002-2007) Cavulli, F. and D. Gheorghiu (2008). "Looking for A Methodology Burning Wattle and Daub Housing Structures. A Preliminary Report on An Archaeological Experiment." Journal of Experimental Pyrotechnologies 1: 37-43. At Vadastra, in southern Romania, Cavulli & Gheorghiu (2002-7) burned and then excavated a Vadastra culture “megaron” building
  32. 32. REPLICA EXPERIMENTAL HOUSE-BURNING Cotiuga,V. (2009). Experimental Archaeology: the Burning of the Chalcolithic Dwellings. InV. Cotiugă, F.Tencariu, & G. Bodi (Eds.), Itinera in Praehistoria. (pp. 303-342). Iasi, Romania: Editura Universității “Alexandru Ioan Cuza”. Cucuteni, NE Romania 2002-2005 plays at: Intentional firing of replica house at Cucuteni during (right) and after (above) the fire At Cucuteni in northeast Romania, Cotiuga and others burned two Cucuteni culture buildings during 2002-2005; the first replicated an “accidental” fire, the second replicated deliberate burning of a building. A careful analysis and color comparison was made of the burned remains of the replica building with the excavated Neolithic burned house rubble. On this basis the researchers concluded that the Neolithic house fires reached mostly 600-900ºC, with vitrification in places at 1100ºC. Their conclusion was that the evidence pointed overwhelmingly to the prehistoric fires being intentionally lit.
  33. 33. REPLICA EXPERIMENTAL HOUSE-BURNING Johnston, S., et al. (2018).The experimental building, burning and excavation of a two-storey Trypillia house. PAST, 89, 13-15. Nebelivka, Ukraine, (2018) Tripillya culture Intentional firing of replica house at Nebelivka during (above) and after (right) the fire At Nebelivka, Ukraine “mega-site” a small replica Tripillya culture house was burned intentionally and excavated afterwards. The researchers found that the burning required ten times more timbers to fuel the fire than its original construction and that firing of the Tripillya culture houses was definitely carried out intentionally.
  34. 34. THERMAL ANALYSIS OF BURNED RUBBLE Jordanova, N., et al. (2018).A Mineral Magnetic Approach to Determine Paleo-FiringTemperatures in the Neolithic Settlement Site of Mursalevo-Deveboaz (SW Bulgaria). Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 123(4), 2522-2538. doi:10.1002/2017JB015190 brown burnt daub shows lowest firing temperatures, 700-800ºC orange-red materials exhibit high initial magnetic susceptibilities that can reach 920°C Purple vitrified daub the estimated firing temperatures around and above 1,000°C. Mursalevo, SW Bulgaria Opovo, Serbia Opovo, Serbia At the Neolithic site of Mursalevo in Southwest Bulgaria a detailed thermal analysis of burned daub from a building was carried out: Nelli Jordanova and her colleagues sampled the rubble with 2x2x2cm blocks and measured the original temperature of firing using the refiring/magnetic susceptibility method. The majority of the examined samples showed firing temperatures in the interval 800–850°C, extending to 1100ºC. They then checked these with Munsell colors charts whose results show very similar results to Mirjana’s temperature estimations at Opovo. Jordanova et al also made an interesting observation about the effect of mixing daub with dung and urine (instead of water). “We suggest that the Neolithic inhabitants were aware of the conditions that guaranteed the most effective daub burning, and added dung and urine as supplementary fuel which provided all necessary compounds and conditions for combustion of the house”. Both these analyses and the replica experimental work support our claim of deliberate firing of most houses, but there are still some questions that not only have not been answered, they have not really been asked
  35. 35. MEDITATION: INTERPRETING INTENTIONAL HOUSE BURNING 36 Explanation Scale House Bio Artifacts Aggression Village All stages Many burned Weather- proofing Single Beginning Many Unburned Re-use Single End None Fumigation Single Mid and End None or Many Burned House Closure Single Mid and End None or Many Burned A great degree of ambiguity enters in considering the question what could have been the motive for setting fire to each, every or a single house, setting aside, for now, the possibility of accidental fire? In the name of the celebration of ambiguity (and as good arson investigators), I have (and so have others) several times over embraced a plurality of scenarios and argued for and against the plausibility of each one, taking into account such variables as scale, stage of house life, and associated artifacts and human remains: Aggression, Weatherproofing, Fumigation and/or Purification after disease and death. My favored motive is still that the building was burned in a ritualized end-of-life ceremony of a house or household, at a time when the these were clearly the focus of society, and perhaps coinciding with the death of a significant person (who in SE Europe is not burned or buried in the house). This is the motive that I am willing to explore furthest in terms of circumstantial evidence, although I obviously will not guarantee that this was the motivation behind every burning event. Evidence for single or multiple events comes from detailed stratigraphy and the presence of burning (or lack of it) between the houses. For the most part this question has not received the attention in the field, laboratory or the mind that it deserves. But I will return to it. In any intentional (arson) fire investigation, an important step in determining why a house was burned is to think of motive, and what the house burners gain from their act. There is an added question of whether their intention was achieved by what actually happened or whether the fire “got out of control”. In an archaeological fire investigation, the desired result may not be a “gain” in our terms of profit or greed, but maybe something much less direct such as the good and continuity of community.
  36. 36. STRUCTURED DEPOSITION AND FRAGMENTATION John Chapman Opovo Selevac Gomolava Traditionally, the inventory and its distribution in the house was interpreted as a “Pompeii Premise”, as representing the activities of the household as a living entity that was interrupted by fire. John Chapman made a significant contribution in his book Fragmentation (2000) in which he suggested that the placement of artifacts was intentional and that they were prepared and deposited in the building - structured deposition - before burning. He suggests that the objects might represent a “mortuary set” laid out in the funeral pyre of the house as an idealized representation of the household or community to express regeneration and continuity. This is a significant elaboration of our interpretation of the Opovo burning events.
  37. 37. A Burned House Horizon at Çatalhöyük? I 5900 BC II II IV V VI VII VIII IX X XI Rough version of XII Mellaart’s sequence XIII 7400 BC ceramics, 2-storey houses Karl Harrison The co-occurrence of structured deposition, symbolic closure of a house, and deliberate burning of the house is known from a number of ethnographic examples. But I think it is worth drawing attention to its example from Neolithic Anatolia, a few thousand years earlier, at Çatalhöyük 7000 BC. James Mellaart (1968) describes the “Great Fire” of his Level VI; he felt that the fires of Phase VI and later were accidental and spread easily in the closely packed buildings. He thought that the less dense pattern of houses after his Level VI, and their shorter duration was a response to the Great Fire. But in fact burned buildings continued in every level after their first occurrence in Level VI. It turns out that other changes occurred in Level VI: such as 2-storeyed buildings (B79, 77), and fired ceramics. The recent excavations of the project led by Ian Hodder have revealed a more detailed context of these house fires, thanks to more attention given to the house life-histories and coevality, and to the arson investigation by Karl Harrison, forensic fire researcher. Harrison, Karl, V. Martin and B. Webster (2013) Structural Fires at Çatalhöyük. In Substantive Technologies at Çatalhöyük: Reports from the 2000–2008 Seasons, edited by I. Hodder, pp. 137-146. Çatalhöyük Research Project, I. Hodder, general editor. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, Los Angeles, CA.
  38. 38. COMPARISON OF ÇATALHÖYÜK BURNING WITHTHE SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN BURNED HOUSE HORIZON Building 79 Karl Harrison’s research in both the South and North Areas of the East Mound indicate some similarities with the Burned House Horizon of Southeast Europe. Mainly this is the fact that all the burning events are intentional and are preceded by structured deposition on the floor as some kind of ceremony of closure of the house. There are, however, more differences than similarities, not least of which is the fact that the architecture is one of mud-brick construction, making it much more challenging to burn, as Harrison’s work has demonstrated. But on the plus side, this architecture provides more opportunity for archaeologists to construct the life-history of the house. At 7000 BC in Central Anatolia, pyrotechnical skills with clay were relatively undeveloped. In fact the phase VI in which the burning of houses starts to take on the appearance of a tradition coincides with the time when fired ceramic manufacture was just starting to become a way of creating containers and be used in cooking. This is very different from the Burned House Horizon of SE Europe which coincides with the development of advanced pyrotechnical skills and control of fire temperatures in the production of ceramics and copper metallurgy. The undeveloped level of fire control at Catal might perhaps be responsible for a couple of examples, where the house- burning got out of control and burned unanticipated buildings. For example, a fire started in the 2-storey building 79 as a localised intensive deliberate fire may have got out of control and spread to B80 and B76.
  39. 39. Vinca, BURNED HOUSES ONTHETELLS OF SOUTHEAST EUROPE Karanovo, Bulgaria Vinca-Bela Brdo, Serbia The formation of tells in Southeast Europe (e.g Karanovo or Vinca) rarely involves the kind of vertical superimposition seen at Catalhöyük with new walls being built on the stubs of old. However, series of floors of unburned clay can be seen superimposed one on top of the other on both tells and also on “flat” sites dating to the earlier Neolithic levels (in Serbia, Vinca A and B). Ubiquitous burning of the wattle and daub houses is characteristic of the Mature Neolithic from 5000BC (Vinca C) and later. But on the tell settlements of the western part of SE Europe we can see intensive layers of burned buildings earlier than this in the profiles of, for example, Vinca-Belo Brdo (Vinca B1/2) and Karanovo (III - Vesselinovo), although it was not characteristic, possibly just one or two burnings per generation. Such intensive traces of burning, however, is very rare or absent at this time from “flat” settlements. I’m just suggesting that the need or desire to burn wattle-and-daub buildings began on the tells in the western part of SE Europe in the late 6th mill BC; that the tradition of burning did not take hold and become a more frequent (even ubiquitous) occurrence or tradition until later in the period of Vinca C-D levels of both the tells and flat settlements at the beginning of the 5th mill BC. The tradition then gained ground in the eastern part of Southeast Europe where it survived for much longer. But there remains the question why choose burning to destroy a house? Is it the indestructible mess that is produced as a result? Was it a practical reason of creating a stable foundation for vertical or near vertical superimposition of houses in the tells?
  40. 40. THE INVISIBILITY OF UNBURNED HOUSES The life-history of a wattle-and-daub house can be ended in a number of ways, depending on what is planned for the future of that place. It can be abandoned and allowed to rot, its features suffering the consequences of entropy; but if caught in time it could still be repaired and used. But if not it will easily be absorbed into the soil matrix. Or it can be destroyed happily or unhappily by fire, in which case its practical function as a building ceases to exist. The effect of the fire is to transform the clay construction materials into a substance that cannot be recycled back into the earth but is permanent visible indestructible addition to the matrix. Is our impression of the universality of burning exaggerated by the fact that burning leaves obvious traces? This is a rarely asked question. If houses are not burned, we archaeologists would be less likely to find them, unless vertical or near-vertical superimposition of their meager remains built up into a mound or tell.
  41. 41. THE INVISIBILITY OF UNBURNED HOUSES postholes of VincaB2/C building at Selevac-Staro Selo Tringham, Ruth and Dusan Krstic (editors) (1990) Selevac: a NeolithicVillage inYugoslavia. Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA. At the flat sites of Selevac and Divostin the Vinca B traces of postholes and foundation trenches and unburned clay floor layers would not have been found deep in the sub-soil without the later layers of burned (Mature Neolithic) Vinca C buildings signalling “come here” above them.
  42. 42. THE INVISIBILITY OF UNBURNED HOUSES Nebelivka, Ukraine (2009, 2012) dual (plus) sensor fluxgate gradiometer 286 ha Chapman, J., eat al.. (2014).The Second Phase of theTrypillia Mega-Site Methodological Revolution.A New Research Agenda. European Journal of Archaeology, 17(3), 369-406. Nebelivka Ukraine geophysical survey Figure 2: Geophysical interpretation on behalf of Professor John Chapman Durham University 0 scale 1:4000 for A1 plot 200m magnetic survey burnt structures unburnt structures soil filled/higher magnetic susceptibility palaeochannel Nebelivka Nebelivka We have always assumed that unburned houses will not show up on archaeomagnetic surveys. . But this assumption has perhaps been exploded by the recent applications of geophysical prospection. For example at the Tripillya culture “mega-site” of Nebelivka, Ukraine unburned houses were identified.
  43. 43. Stublina-Crkvina, Serbia (2010) Magnetometer- gradiometer GSM Crnobrnja,A. (2012). Investigations of LateVinca house 1/2010 at Crkvine in Stubline. Starinar, LXII, 45-64. doi: 10.2298/STA1262045C . NEW METHODS OF PROSPECTION 44 Crkvina Majdanetske Crkvina Majdanetske Nebelivka Majdanetske, Ukraine Rassmann et al. (2014) High precisionTripolye settlement plans, demographic estimations and settlement organization. J. Neolithic Archaeology Very far from the clumsy pre-digital survey at Divostin (1969) and the (then) Tripolye culture surveys (1970s-80s), the 2010s geophysical prospection, for example at Stublina-Crkvina, and Cucuteni-(now)Tripillya sites such as Nebelivka and Majdanetske, is so powerful now that, as one researcher noted, it can be almost as good as viewing an excavated building (who was this ?Muller). The temptation is to see the results of perhaps hundreds of houses spread over a large area as a very large settlement, even a city. This has very recently come to a head in the discussion of the Tripillya-Cucuteni mega-sites characterized by 2000 houses, most of them destroyed by burning, with no spatial overlap. In which case the deliberate setting of coeval fire events would be reminiscent of the blaze envisaged by Isaac Asimov’s archaeologists in Nightfall (that could be seen from outer space)
  44. 44. PRESUMPTION OF COEVALITY Accidental Intentional Single Event Village-wide event The interpretation of the burned houses in a settlement as coeval in terms of their construction, occupation and/or their burning events, or not at all, changes significantly our interpretation of the house burning as multiple or single and the nature of settlement formation. The coevality question has been glided over frequently in Neolithic settlement archaeology in South East Europe. The challenge that has rarely (if ever) been problematized is how to separate the coevality or synchroneity of building and living in a house from the fire events that brought the life of the house to a definitive end. What we archaeologists can excavate and evaluate is not the result of the long years before the fire, but the result of the fire itself - a very short-lived event, a week at most.
  45. 45. COEVALITY OF HOUSES AT SELEVAC, SERBIA 1976-79 postholes of VincaB2/C building at Selevac-Staro Selo stratigraphy in the excavated area at Selevac-Staro Selo Part of the problem with the flat sites (not tells) of the Burned House Horizon is that there seems to be no stratigraphy, (hence they are called flat). Selevac is unusual in this respect since there are earlier levels (Vinca B2 and B2/C) in some areas of the site, but these have almost no evidence of burning and are not continuously linked stratigraphically to the later Vinca C burned house remains. Among the latter, there is no apparent stratigraphic differentiation, so it is difficult to demonstrate non-coevality and easier to assume coevality.
  46. 46. COEVALITY OF HOUSES AT SELEVAC, SERBIA 1976-79 burned house remains of Vinca C building(s) at Selevac-Staro Selo At Selevac, Marija Gimbutas and all who saw this 53 hectare site full of apparently Neolithic burned houses said this must have been an enormous settlement, perhaps a city (as in the lower part of the chart - Figure 16.9). In 1976-79 in our naieveté we excavated in trenches and were able to observe stratigraphy. But we had a very limited horizontal exposure of burned buildings and of the settlement itself. Even so, I could not imagine the whole 53 hectares of houses burning at once. I did hypothesize, however, with very little evidence, an alternative model to explain the spread of burned rubble over such a large area (see the upper part of the chart - Figure 16.8) based on a smaller area of coeval houses. If the house burning was an individual event, what happened after you had burned a house? Burning transforms the building, specifically its daub skin into a fragmented, hard material that, after thousands of years, will not disappear. Most of it, however, was certainly visible to the prehistoric and later inhabitants on the surface as it was slowly covered with soil deposits. Such an area is pretty useless for agriculture, and it was not used for house foundation. I hypothesized that they replaced the old house with a completely new house built nearby with or without overlap. In this way, the area of coeval house (small village) gradually shifted and made a clay daub mess across the whole site. See Chapter 16 in Tringham, Ruth and Dusan Krstic (editors) (1990) Selevac: a Neolithic Village in Yugoslavia. Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA.
  47. 47. HOUSE REPLACEMENT AT OPOVO House 2 House 1 We designed the Opovo project not only to investigate deliberate or accidental burning, but also to identify single or multiple coeval burning events. At Opovo we excavated very carefully in the area around the burned rubble, and retained profiles across the site and its buildings and I believe we were able to show that the two houses in the latest layer of the excavated area were not burned at the same time (although others would argue against this). In fact it is possible that these two houses represented a situation of house replacement of one house by another at a nearby location, as hypothesized for Selevac.
  48. 48. THE COEVALITY QUESTION AT INTHETRIPILLYA MEGA-SITES Majdanetske, Ukraine. 2016 Muller J., K. Rassmann and MVideiko (eds.).(2016)Trypillia-Megasites and European Prehistory, 4100-3400 BCE. London, Routledge. Tripolye, UkraineSSR. 1936 Passek,Tatyana (1949) Periodzation of theTripolye settlements. Materiali i Issledovanya 10, Moscow- Leningrad. The issue of whether coevality in the mature Cucuteni and Tripillya “mega-sites” refers to construction and living or to burning and destruction has been plagued by the same problem as that of many of the smaller sites of the Burned House Horizon in western Southeast Europe. The problem is caused by the strategy of focusing excavation and analysis on the construction and occupation of the buildings, rather than on their destruction. A conundrum is created by the fact that the only evidence for coevality of many years of occupation of houses is provided by the very short-lived event that definitively ends the houses’ lives - their destruction by fire. Since the first excavations of (then) Tripolye settlements, success was based on revealing in large extensive excavations the spectacular pattern of the Neolithic burned house floors. There was no desire to break up this pattern by leaving baulks across and between structures, since it was assumed that either there was no difference in the time of burning or that differences were so small as not to matter. This strategy has continued into the 21st century
  49. 49. THE COEVALITY QUESTION AT INTHETRIPILLYA MEGA-SITES Majdanetske Reconstruction Maximalist 7500-30,000 all 2000 houses occupied and burned coevally Middle Way >7500 small coeval neighborhoods all year round, gradually shifting the active location Minimalist >7500 smaller seasonal coeval occupation and temporary large aggregations Chapman, J., Gaydarska, B., & Nebbia, M. (2019).The Origins ofTrypillia Megasites. Frontiers in Digital Humanities, 6. Muller J., K. Rassmann and MVideiko (eds.).(2016)Trypillia- Megasites and European Prehistory, 4100-3400 BCE. London, Routledge. Two options have been used to demonstrate to demonstrate coevality (or not) in the Tripillya culture“mega-sites”; hopefully there will be more, such as refitting of house contents, in the future. 1) C14 /AMS used by Maximalist (German-Ukrainian) approach Videiko, Muller et al. at Majdanetske (2016): in which samples from a few excavated houses were used to extrapolate a coeval occupation (actually burning) in the complete site suggesting population estimates of 7400-30,000. Precision is required that not even Bayliss can achieve. 2) Measuring the environmental impact by pollen coring next to a settlement (Nebelivka). In view of the low impact of the Nebelivka population on environment, including tree-cover, the large amount of timber needed for house construction and 10 times more needed for house-burning, Chapman and Gaydarska argue for alternative interpretations: (“Minimalist”) smaller seasonal coeval occupation and temporary large aggregations (time for burning some houses?), or (“Middle Way”) for small coeval neighborhoods all year round, gradually shifting the active location. The population estimates for both of these are much smaller than 7500.
  50. 50. LOSS OF HOUSE BURNING Larsson, L. (2002). Fire as a Means of Ritual Transformation during the Prehistory of Southern Scandinavia. In D. Gheorghiu (Ed.), Fire in Archaeology. Oxford: BAR International series Fredriksen, P.D. (2009)Transformations in Clay. Material Knowledges,Thermodynamic Spaces and the Moloko Sequence of the Late Iron Age (AD 1300-1840) in Southern Africa,Archaeology, Ph.D. diss., Universitetet i Bergen There is much discussion about the growing importance of the household, the house, and the domestic domain and in the developing skills in pyrotechnology in the transition from Early Neolithic to Mature Neolithic to create what we call BHH. The loss and forgetting of the tradition of burning houses is much less discussed. It is submerged in the many changes in settlement, burial, and material culture traditions that comprise the archaeology of the Late Chalcolithic-EBA transition at different speeds in different areas of Southeast Europe, starting in the west (especially the tells) and ending much later in the eastern part. I would like to put the focus for a minute on the loss of the tradition of burning houses rather than have it be collateral damage as part of the other transformations. Those whose imaginations have not envisaged this as a period of invasion, migration, aggression, claims for dominance, greed, and general mayhem, along with the breakdown of the ”old” traditions, including house-burning, have generally agreed (and I include John Chapman as well as myself here) that included in the transformation was an ideological disengagement with the house, the household, and the communal domestic place and its taskscapes, and an engagement with domains that forefronted human individuals and their identity in life and death. To say more would be to embark on another lecture. But I do not want to let go of what that means in terms of burning and fire, and the lack of it. The burning of a house was an intense communal event with everyone participating. Inside the house the oven and its flame kept this ideology going between fire events. The purpose of both house-burning and fire-in-the-house was to ensure continuity, create social memory, strengthen identity and community, and incorporate social reproduction through dramatic performance. Fire is the destroyer and transformer and as Larsson (2002) says “the process of transformation in function and appearance can be seen, heard, smelled and touched - it is a truly multisensorial event, that has a public , direct, evocative and even more magical appearance.” This perhaps was an important rationale to burn a house. But there are others reasons. What must have been the result of giving up on such dramas? I have no answers to that and haven’t yet really imagined it. However, Fredriksen’s (2012) argument “…that fire and other nonhumans are potentially actively involved in social processes taking place in household space” inspires (for me) a sudden amazing vision of what the end of burning houses and big ovens might have meant to people who had memories of such events and places. Was this the end of fire as a positive manifestation - a friend even though a trickster - and the beginning of viewing it as a fiend to be controlled by specialist fire crafters, used on one’s enemies, to be viewed as the “other”, at least for a few thousand years?
  51. 51. FIRE: FRIEND OR FIEND The day will come when, after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love.And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire. Teilhard de Chardin: ”The Evolution of Chastity" (1934), There are several rather violent models of European prehistory going around currently and it gives me a nervous stomach. This presentation has a very personal aim for me. I am a great believer in celebrating the ambiguity of archaeological traces. I have given this presentation as a message to those whose model of the Neolithic and Bronze Age is based on warfare, violence, attacks, militarism, raiding, and greed, involving fire the fiend. I have tried to point out that these are interpretations, not facts, and that for each one, an alternative interpretation can be offered, involving fire the friend. If you can hold both in your mind at the same time, and enjoy the investigation of each without demanding that it be the truth, then you have satisfied Teilhard de Chardin: “The day will come when, after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
  52. 52. more information at: https// Mirjana Stevanovic and the Opovo team the Çatalhöyük Research Project students of the Fire and Archaeology seminar Kent Lightfoot Tim Gill andTim Darvill for making this happen THANK YOU