Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 75–83 | Cite as

Investigating fuel and fireplaces with a combination of phytoliths and multi-element analysis; an ethnographic experiment

  • Carla LancelottiEmail author
  • Javier Ruiz-Pérez
  • Juan José García-Granero
Original Article


The identification of fuel-related practices in archaeological contexts is almost always associated with the identification of fire-related structures. Charcoal analysis is the standard method of identifying wood use in the past; however, in many circumstances wood was not the primary source of fuel. In arid and semi-arid environments alternative fuels such as dung, chaff and straw and, in general, plant processing by-products were predominant. The study of these types of fuel often necessitates the application of multi-proxy analyses, involving botanical micro-remains and geochemistry. This paper presents the results of an integrated analysis of phytoliths and chemical elements of samples collected in a modern ethnographic context, a domestic compound, in North Gujarat, India. Alternative fuels have been and are still very important in this area due to the scarcity of wood and the recent ban on cutting trees imposed by the government. Within the house studied, three fireplaces were present where different types of activities were performed selectively. The differential use of fuels in the three fireplaces is highlighted by the results of descriptive and multivariate statistics. However, the opposite geochemical signals that the fireplaces produced, when they should have been similar, would be difficult to interpret in an archaeological context where the practices that had produced such signals are unknown. The combination of phytoliths and geochemistry, coupled with the ethnographic information on the activity, can help us to construct better models to help interpret the archaeological record.


Fuel Phytoliths Ethnography Geochemistry India Anthropic activity markers 



All authors belong to the Complexity and Socio-Ecological Dynamics (CaSEs) Research Group, a Grup de Recerca Emergent (SGRe-1417) of the Generalitat de Catalunya, coordinated by Marco Madella. This research was carried out within the framework of the projects MoMArq (Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, HAR2014-55518-P) and NoGAP (Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness HAR2010-16052 and CONSOLIDER INGENIO CSD2010-00034; the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport through the Program Ayudas para Proyectos Arqueologicos en el Exterior 2009–2010; and the EXCAVA 2009 program of the Generalitat de Catalunya). JJGG was supported by a JAE PreDOC Doctoral Scholarship (Spanish National Research Council and European Fund). The authors are extremely grateful to all their Indian colleagues, especially Ajithprasad P. and Charusmita Gadekar for their invaluable help in the field. We also want to thank warmly Sakti-ji, Nema-ji, Puri Sonal and Nita for welcoming us in their home, letting us make holes in their floor and being very patient with all our questions.

Supplementary material

334_2016_574_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (21 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (XLSX 21 kb)
334_2016_574_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (19 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 19 kb)
334_2016_574_MOESM3_ESM.xlsx (15 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (XLSX 14 kb)


  1. Albert RM, Weiner S (2001) Study of phytoliths in prehistoric ash layers from Kebara and Tabun caves using a quantitative approach. In: Meunier D, Colin F (eds) Phytoliths: applications in earth sciences and human history. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 251–266Google Scholar
  2. Asouti E (2003) Woodland vegetation and fuel exploitation at the prehistoric campsite of Pınarbası, south-central Anatolia, Turkey: the evidence from the wood charcoal macro-remains. J Archaeol Sci 30:1,185–1,201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barba L (1986) La química en el estudio de áreas de actividad. In: Manzanilla L (ed) Unidades habitacionales mesoamericanas y sus áreas de actividad. UNAM, Mexico City, pp 21–39Google Scholar
  4. Beresford-Jones DG, Johnson K, Pullen AG, Pryor AJ, Svoboda J, Jones MK (2010) Burning wood or burning bone? A reconsideration of flotation evidence from upper Palaeolithic (Gravettian) sites in the Moravian corridor. J Archaeol Sci 37:2,799–2,811CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chabal L (1997) Forets et sociétés en Languedoc (Néolithique Final Antiquité Tardive). L’Anthracologie, méthode et paléoécologie. (Documents d’Archéologie Française 63) Maison de Sciences de l’homme, ParisGoogle Scholar
  6. Friesem DE, Karkanas P, Tsartsidou G, Shahack-Gross R (2014) Sedimentary processes involved in mud brick degradation in temperate environments: a micromorphological approach in an ethnoarchaeological context in northern Greece. J Archaeol Sci 41:556–567CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. García-Granero JJ, Lancelotti C, Madella M (2015) A tale of multi-proxies: integrating macro- and microbotanical remains to understand subsistence strategies. Veget Hist Archaeobot 24:121–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gur-Arieh S, Mintz E, Boaretto E, Shahack-Gross R (2013) An ethnoarchaeological study of cooking installations in rural Uzbekistan: development of a new method for identification of fuel sources. J Archaeol Sci 40:4,331–4,347CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Harris M (2001) India’s sacred cow. In: Goodman A, Dufur D, Pelto G (eds) Nutritional anthropology. Biocultural perspectives on food and nutrition. Mayfield Publishing Company, Mountain View, pp 113–118Google Scholar
  10. Lancelotti C (2010) Fuelling Harappan hearths: human–environment interactions as revealed by fuel exploitation and use. Dissertation, University of CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  11. Lancelotti C, Madella M (2012) The ‘invisible’ product: developing markers for identifying dung in archaeological contexts. J Archaeol Sci 39:953–963CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Lê S, Josse J, Husson F (2008) FactoMiner: an R package for multivariate analysis. J Stat Softw 25:1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Linseele V, Riemer H, Baeten J, Vos DD, Marinova E, Ottoni C (2013) Species identification of archaeological dung remains: a critical review of potential methods. Environ Archaeol 18:5–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Madella M, Powers-Jones AH, Jones MK (1998) A simple method of extraction of opal phytoliths from sediments using a non-toxic heavy liquid. J Archaeol Sci 25:801–803CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Madella M, Ajithprasad P, Lancelotti C et al (2010) Social and environmental transitions in arid zones: the North Gujarat Archaeological Project—NoGAP. Antiquity Publications, DurhamGoogle Scholar
  16. Meyer J (2003) Understanding hearth function: an approach from Harappa. Asian Perspect 42:287–303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Middleton W, Barba L, Pecci A, Burton JH, Ortiz A, Salvini L, Suarez RR (2010) The study of archaeological floors: methodological proposal for the analysis of anthropogenic residues by spot tests, ICP-AES, and GC–MS. J Archaeol Method Theory 17:183–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Pearsall DM, Piperno DR, Dinan EH, Umlauf M, Zhao Z, Benfer RA (2008) Distinguishing rice (Oryza sativa, Poaceae) from wild Oryza species through phytolith analysis: results of preliminary research. Econ Bot 49:183–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Piperno DR (2006) Phytoliths. A comprehensive guide for archaeologists and paleoecologists. Altamira Press, LanhamGoogle Scholar
  20. R Development Core Team (2014) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, ViennaGoogle Scholar
  21. Rondelli B, Lancelotti C, Madella M et al (2014) Anthropic activity markers and spatial variability: an ethnoarchaeological experiment in a domestic unit of northern Gujarat (India). J Archaeol Sci 41:482–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Shahack-Gross R (2011) Herbivorous livestock dung: formation, taphonomy, methods for identification, and archaeological significance. J Archaeol Sci 38:205–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Shahack-Gross R, Marshall F, Ryan K, Weiner S (2004) Reconstruction of spatial organization in abandoned Maasai settlements: implications for site structure in the pastoral Neolithic of East Africa. J Archaeol Sci 31:1,395–1,411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Théry-Parisot I (2002) Fuel management (bone and wood) during the lower Aurignacian in the Pataud rock shelter (lower Palaeolithic, Les Eyzies de Tayac, Dordogne, France)—contribution of experimentation. J Archaeol Sci 29:1,415–1,421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Viswanathan B, Kumar KK (2005) Cooking fuel use patterns in India: 1983–2000. Energy Policy 33:1,021–1,036CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Yannitto V (2011) Micromorfología en contexto etnoarqueologico. Técnicas constructivas entre los agricultores de Jandhala (Gujarat, India). Dissertation, Autonomous University of BarcelonaGoogle Scholar
  27. Zapata Peña L, Peña Chocarro L, Ibañez Estévez JJ, González Urquijo EJ (2003) Ethnoarchaeology in the Moroccan Jebala (Western Rif): wood and dung as fuel. In: Neumann K (ed) Food, fuels and fields: progress in African archaeobotany (Africa Praehistorica 15). Heinrich Barth Institut, Köln, pp 163–175Google Scholar
  28. Zurro D (2011) Ni carne ni pescado (consumo de recursos vegetales en la Prehistoria): Análisis de la variabilidad de los conjuntos fitolitologicos en contextos cazadores-recolectores. Dissertation, Universitat Autonoma de BarcelonaGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carla Lancelotti
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Javier Ruiz-Pérez
    • 1
    • 3
  • Juan José García-Granero
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Complexity and Socio-Ecological Dynamics Research Group (CaSEs)Pompeu Fabra UniversityBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Department of HumanitiesPompeu Fabra UniversityBarcelonaSpain
  3. 3.Department of Animal and Plant Biology and Ecology, Faculty of BiosciencesAutonomous University of BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  4. 4.Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Institución Milá y FontanalsSpanish National Research Council (CSIC)BarcelonaSpain

Personalised recommendations