At Crvena Stijena, it is quite clear that Neanderthals used fire extensively. If you stand at the edge of the profile, you will see that some of the layers in the profile are quite black: they are composed of charcoal and charred organic matter. The white layers overlying them are composed of wood ash. Even where such fire features are not as obvious, they frequently occur in smaller, thinner deposits. We are using several scientific methods to understand how Neanderthals used fire. Archaeomagnetism helps us find invisible (to the human eye) signatures of fire; anthracology, or the study of charcoal, helps us identify the types of wood that were used in fires; and with micromorphology, the microscopic analysis of the microstratigraphy of hearths, we can determine if the feature is an intact hearth, a raked-out hearth, a garbage dump, and so forth.
Anthracologist Paloma Vidal studies charcoal; she carries out burning experiments in order to document the different burning properties of different kinds of wood.
This photo of the stratigraphy shows alternating black (charcoal) and white (ash) layers, that accumulated 60,000 years ago as Neanderthals repeatedly made campfires in the same spot.
In the lab, Paloma is able to identify wood species and degree of alteration by studying charcoal under the microscope.
Geophysicist Angel Carrancho removes cores of sediment from an archaeological profile in order to study the magnetic properties of the sediment, which give us important information about their exposure to fire.
The cryogenic magnetometer in Angel Carrancho’s lab can measure very subtle magnetic properties in sediments and rocks.