Wednesday, August 8, 2012


The figurines above were among some 200 found at the excavation of the Neolithic village of Sha`ar Hagolan (שַׁעַר הַגּוֹלָן‎‎) in the Jordan Valley. Also found were some cylindrical objects up to 2.36" (60mm)  in length thought to be phallic fetishes. But recent reexamination has determined these to have a much more utilitarian function. The small clay rods (photos here) are now believed to have been used 8,000 years ago to start (and restart) fires, which could make them the earliest evidence of how fires were ignited. The connection to sticks used as fire drills (see modern examples here) to generate friction to ignite tinder was made by Prof. Naama Goren-Inbar of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. With her colleagues, she has authored a study entitled "The Earliest Matches" detailing their examination of the cylinders under an electron microscope:
  • Striations at the conical ends of the cylinders indicate that they had been rotated at a high rate of speed.
  • Grooves further up point to a bow being used to do the spinning.
  • Differing breakage patterns support their use as drill bits.
  • Darkened coloration of the tip suggests burns and scorch-marks.
The numbers of these items found and their lack of any artistic decoration also support the theory. Signs of pyrotechnology date back 750,000 years in Eurasia, but usually in the form of remnants of fire itself. "We have fire evidence in modern humans and Neanderthals, from charcoal, ashes and hearths, but there was nothing ever found that was connected with how you ignite the fire," says Goren-Inbar.
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