The nature of archaeology is that we know rather little about what really happened in the past. There is very little firm evidence, giving room for multiple interpretations. In this section, I offer what I believe In My Humble Opinion to be the case, even though there may well be better interpretations around.

 

 Bones as fuel?

There is significant literature arguing that in the past, bones were used as fuel (e.g., MacDonald et al. 2021; Roebroks & Villa 2011; Thery-Parisot et al. 2020). Some people have argued this use of bones also for metallurgical furnaces. IMHO, however, this is not likely to have been a wide-spread activity. Looking more closely at the relevant literature reveals that almost all cases were from Palaeolithic or Mesolithic contexts. This, of course, makes sense – there would have been plenty of bones around, full of grease and fat and likely contributing to a slow-burning fire: ideal to sustain it over night. However, in the metal-using periods, people would have had routinely access to cooking pots, and the fat and other nutrients from bones would have been extracted through cooking, rendering them rather less useful as fuel. Also, in metallurgy most furnaces need fast-burning, hot fuel, not the sort of fuel a bone provides.

 

"Experiments on fire manipulation of bones as fuel demonstrated that animal bones are effective in the act of maintaining lasting combustion. These experiments are almost always applied to the studies in hunter–gather societies in prehistory, even though the use of bones as fuel is also known in historical times." (Costa 2016: 877).


References

Costa, C. 2016. The use of animal bone as fuel in the Third Millennium BC walled enclosure of Castanheiro do Vento (Northern Portugal). International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 26, 877-884.

MacDonald, Katharine, Scherjon, Fulco; van Veen, Eva, Vaesen, Krist & Roebroks, Wil, 2021. Middle Pleistocene fire use: The first signal of widespread cultural diffusion in human evolution. PNAS 118, 31, e2101108118.

Roebroeks, Wil & Villa, Paola, 2011. On the earliest evidence for habitual use of fire in Europe. PNAS 108, 13, 5209-5214.

Thery-Parisot, Isabelle; Henry, Auréade; Rageot, Maxime (2020), Artisanats du feu, gestion des combustibles et paléoenvironnements : de la compréhension des dépôts à l’analyse des pratiques. Methodes, limites et apport de l’experimentation a la comprehension des pratiques et des depots en anthracologie, in Beyries, Sylvie (dir.), Expérimentation en archéologie de la préhistoire, 103-120.