“When the last fires were put out”: ethnographic analogy and the symbolic use of fire in the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic

Penny Spikins, Rebecca Kelly, Liliana Manzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Archaeological interpretations of the use of fire in Mesolithic societies focus almost exclusively on its practical and economic uses, such as a source of light, warmth or to cook food. Though new theoretical approaches have cast insight into many themes within studies of the Mesolithic – of which food (MIRACLE P. 2002; MILNER N. 2006), settlement patterns (CONNELLER C. 2005) and gender relations (FINLAY N. 2009) are perhaps the most notable – fire remains interpreted as a largely economic or practical element. In order to redress this imbalance one possibility is to draw potential new interpretations from ethnographic analogies which illustrate a much broader and more social use of fires. To this end in this paper we consider the use of fire by the Selk’nam of Tierra del Fuego, a group living in high latitude densely forested environments similar to those of much of Mesolithic Europe, as a basis for re-interpreting the use of fire at March Hill Carr and March Hill Top in the Central Pennines in the Late Mesolithic, as well as in order to generate broader insights into the potential for wider consideration of the social or symbolic use of fire in early prehistory.
Original languageEnglish
JournalXXXII Convegno Internazionale di Americanistica
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Fire
  • Mesolithic
  • Hunter-gatherers
  • Selk'nam

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