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