Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 839–862 | Cite as

The Role of Fire in the Life of an Adhesive

  • Dries CnutsEmail author
  • Sonja Tomasso
  • Veerle Rots


The use of fire is essential for the preparation of hafting adhesives; both are suggested to be a proxy for distinguishing the technological expertise and complex cognition among Palaeolithic populations. While use of fire has been argued to exist from about 1.0 Ma onwards, evidence for adhesives in the Palaeolithic record is rare and fragmented. In spite of the close link between fire places and adhesives, no study has ever focussed on examining the impact of heat on adhesive deposition and preservation. This paper discusses the results of a combustion experiment that was undertaken to understand the impact of heat exposure on hafting adhesives. The results have significant implications for archaeological interpretations. Deposition in or near a fire proves to severely impact the types of residues that preserve on a stone tool. The vertically transferred heat is responsible for the loss of adhesives but also for the incidental production of adhesives and their deposition on stone tools. It can be hypothesised that the rare survival of adhesives on archaeological stone tools might not only be the result of direct contact with the fire but also the result of degradation due to heat from overlying fireplaces. If we are to improve our understanding of the preservation of adhesives, it is important to unstand the taphonomic processes that affect these adhesives, in particular heat alteration.


Fire Hafting adhesives Residues Palaeolithic Experimental archaeology 



Veerle Rots is indebted to the FNRS. We are grateful to Fernand Collin and Cécile Jungels for accommodating the experiments at the Prehistomuseum. We thank the TraceoLab and Chercheurs de la Wallonie (CETREP) members for their help and advice during the experiments, in particular Christian Lepers and Justin Coppe for producing all the experimental stone tools examined in this study and Elspeth Hayes for having revised the English text. Finally, we would like to thank the reviewers who have helped to improve this paper.

Funding Information

This research was funded by the European Research Council under the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013) in the context of a starting grant (EVO-HAFT) attributed to Veerle Rots (ERC Grant Agreement no. 312283).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.TraceoLab/PrehistoryUniversity of LiègeLiègeBelgium
  2. 2.Chercheur Qualifié du FNRSUniversity of LiègeLiègeBelgium

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