No Matches? No Problem. Ancient Fire-Making in Israel

Stone Age fireboard discovered in Ramat Bet Shemesh

bet-shemesh-fireboard

This 9,000-year-old limestone slab was used in ancient fire-making, according to archaeologists. Photo: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Just in time for summer campfires and s’mores, an archaeological discovery in Israel’s Ramat Bet Shemesh shows how to make fire without matches or a lighter. Led by Anna Eirikh-Rose on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), archaeologists excavated a limestone slab that seems to have been used in ancient fire-making. The slab dates to 7000 B.C.E., the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period (the New Stone Age).

The thick 9,000-year-old slab is punctured with two sockets and grooves connecting them. In an IAA press release, Eirikh-Rose explains how the Stone Age person would have used this slab to start a fire:

“[They would] rapidly rotate a wooden branch in the hollow (similar to a drill). The rotational energy was translated into heat, and when it came in contact with a flammable material placed inside the hollow, it began to burn and the fire was lit.”

Tinder may have also been placed in the grooves running between the two sockets, according to the 2012 PLOS ONE article “The Earliest Matches” by Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers Naama Goren-Inbar, Michael Freikman, Yosef Garfinkel, Nigel A. Goring-Morris and Leore Grosman.

The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—throughout the Mediterranean world.

matches-shaar-hagolan

Fired-clay objects interpreted to be Neolithic matches from Sha‘ar HaGolan. Photo: Courtesy Naama Goren-Inbar, Michael Freikman, Yosef Garfinkel, Nigel A. Goring-Morris and Leore Grosman.

“Tinder can be any dry substance, like dry wood fibers, dry leaves, straw or wool,” explained Ahiad Ovadia, curator of prehistoric cultures at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, in an email to Bible History Daily. “‘Fireboards’ like [the one at Ramat Bet Shemesh] are known from other Pre-Pottery Neolithic B sites in Israel and Egypt, and they were considered to be game boards until the 2012 PLOS ONE article.”

According to the Hebrew University researchers, the fireboards may have possessed symbolic meaning in addition to a practical function.

“Ethnographically, in many societies the fire drill and the fireboard are considered to represent the male and female sex organs, respectively,” wrote the researchers in PLOS ONE.

Archaeologists have found evidence of ancient fire-making in this region dating as far back as 800,000 years ago (the Old Stone Age)—ash, charcoal, burnt seeds and flint chips. The PLOS ONE article describes what may be the earliest recorded evidence of fire ignition: small clay and stone cylindrical objects used as matches from the sixth-millennium B.C.E. sites of Sha‘ar HaGolan and Munhata.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Archaeologists Identify the World’s Earliest “Matches” in Ancient Israel

Why Study Prehistoric Israel?

The Ancient Bean Diet: Fava Beans Favored in Prehistoric Israel

Neolithic Figurine Could Lead to Reassessment of Prehistoric Israel

“Lay Some Flowers on My Grave”: Oldest grave flowers discovered in Israel

Going Paleo: Prehistoric site in Israel offers menu for a Paleolithic diet

The Göbekli Tepe Ruins and the Origins of Neolithic Religion
 


 

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