A new study has aimed to investigate hearths (sites specially conditioned to make fire in them in a controlled and routine manner) that date from the Mesolithic and that were recently discovered in the archaeological site of Arenal de la Virgen de Villena, in Alicante, Spain.
The work, carried out by an interdisciplinary team from the universities of Alicante, the Basque Country, Aarhus and Rennes, the latter two from Denmark and France, is the first on the European Mesolithic that integrates different high-resolution archaeological analysis techniques.
The study, which has focused on the archaeological sediments of Arenal de la Virgen, an open-air site located in a dune system next to the Villena Lagoon (Alicante), reveals the existence of camps with homes during the Mesolithic. The objective of this work has been fulfilled, by clarifying the anthropic origin produced or modified by human activity of a type of common but little-studied archaeological evidence in Mesolithic sites from the early Holocene located in semi-arid dune contexts in Europe: those known as homes in pits or ‘hearth-pits’.
“In the Iberian Peninsula, this is the first time that this type of structure has been studied in detail by applying a systematic methodology in order to determine its formation, better understand its specific function and evaluate the alterations suffered after the occupation and abandonment of the site” , points out Ana Polo-Díaz, researcher at the Department of Geography, Prehistory and Archeology at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), member of the UPV/EHU Prehistory Research Group (Gizapre) and first signatory of the study. As a novelty, to carry out this work, the researchers have applied a novel interdisciplinary scientific archeology methodology that integrates stratigraphic and textural analysis, soil chemistry, micromorphology, petrography, and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and thermoluminescence ( TL).
The work team has been integrated, in addition to Ana Polo-Díaz, by the researcher at the University of Alicante (UA) and at the University of Aarhus José Ramón Rabuñal; the researcher from the University of Rennes Guilaume Guerìn, and the distinguished researcher from the University Institute for Research in Archeology and Historical Heritage (INAPH) of the UA, Javier Fernández López de Pablo.
“The results obtained allow us to confirm the anthropic origin of the investigated structures, whose chronology is associated with two different occupation phases: the most distant, with an age of between 9,300 and 9,100 years, while the most recent one is between 8,700 years old. and 8,400 years”, explains Javier Fernández López de Pablo.
Remains found: homes and an oven
Regarding the oldest phase of occupation, remains of structures corresponding to a possible oven in a vat have been discovered, as well as an adjoining area dedicated to the accumulation of combustion residues from said oven and with a specific use. With regard to the most recent phase, areas of activity of greater extension on the surface have been identified compared to the oldest phase, in which, in addition to evidence of fire, residues of the occupation of a settlement that extended over a period of between 200 and 400 years.
Ana Polo-Díaz, researcher at the University of the Basque Country. (Photo: Nuria González / UPV/EHU)
The data obtained show favorable climatic conditions for habitability during the specific period of time in which the settlement took place in Arenal de Virgen, during the Ancient Holocene. “These environmental conditions were characterized by an increase in environmental humidity, temperature and vegetation cover, in contrast to a significantly greater aridity detected in the moments before and after the occupation of the site during the Pleistocene and Middle Holocene, respectively” , indicate the authors of the article.
The results of this research open new perspectives for the investigation of the open-air settlements of the last groups of hunter-gatherers of Prehistory in the Iberian Peninsula, at a crucial moment in human evolution, after the end of the last great ice age. and the beginning of the climatic period in which we find ourselves today, the Holocene.
The study is entitled “Mesolithic hearth-pits and formation processes: a geoarchaeological investigation of sediments from El Arenal de la Virgen site (SE Iberia)”. And it has been published in the academic journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.
The study is part of the PALEODEM-‘Late Glacial and Postglacial Population History and Cultural Transmission in Iberia’ project. This is an ERC Consolidator project funded by the European Research Council, led by UA researcher Javier Fernández López de Pablo. The purpose of this project is to clarify what was the climatic impact on the demography of the last prehistoric hunter-gatherers in Southeast Europe and to assess how this impact affected the cultural transmission of these human groups. (Source: UPV/EHU)