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Andrew Sorensen receives Veni for continuation of prehistoric fire-making research

In 2018, Sorensen’s research into the fire-making habits of the Neanderthals reached the headlines all over the world. Now, a Veni grant will enable him to continue his fire-related investigation, focusing more on our own distant ancestors.

Double standards

‘It is generally taken for granted that fire use was a universal feature among the warm-adapted Homo sapiens moving into Ice Age Europe ca. 45,000 years ago, but this is hardly supported by the archaeological record.’ Sorensen explains. ‘Neanderthals used fire regularly, yet the idea that they were able to produce fire at will remains heavily debated.’ On the other hand, the claim that the modern humans were making fire is virtually uncontested despite the lack of direct archaeological evidence.

Sorensen wants to address this double standard in prehistoric archaeology.

Objectives

The project consists of a two-pronged approach to fire use among early Upper Palaeolithic peoples. ‘The first objective is to compile data on hearths, charcoal, fire-affected lithics, etc., from minimally 300 Upper Palaeolithic sites dating to 45,000-20,000 years ago.’ Such a dataset will help to explore trends in the use and functions of fire.

The second objective is to identify fire-making tools. ‘Flint ‘strike-a-lights’ were struck against the mineral pyrite to make sparks, producing distinctive use-damage identifiable through microwear analysis.’

In summary, the resulting database, in combination with a focused research for fire-making tools, will test the long-held but unproved notion that fire-making was universal and essential for early Upper Palaeolithic peoples moving into and surviving in Ice Age Europe.

About the Veni

NWO presents the Veni subsidies every year to young researchers, many of whom have just received their PhD. They each receive a maximum of 250,000 euros for curiosity-driven research. Together with the Vidi and Vici, the Veni is part of NWO's Innovation Incentive. 

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