The Earliest Evidence for Clay Hearths: Aurignacian Features in Klisoura Cave 1, Southern Greece

Article excerpt


Hearth structures are probably one of the first expressions of space-specific skills. Building a fireplace is a sign of permanence. Such structures are used repeatedly and can survive beyond the limits of the seasonal occupation. As Gamble (1999) has stressed, they provide a focus of performance and social life. Identifying variations in hearth structures over time is therefore fundamental for understanding the evolution of human social life. Well-built hearths are known from the Middle Palaeolithic. However, they are confined to stone constructions (Vega Toscano et al. 1994), or well delimited-accumulations of burnt remains (review by Meignen et al. 2001). A noticeable change in the manner of using fireplaces is evident in the Upper Palaeolithic. In the Gravettian of Dolni Vestonice fireplaces were used for transforming materials. They have the form of domed and banked clay kilns and they were used for the firing of clay figurines (Vandiver et al. 1989). The study of the technology of Dolni Vestonice shows an advanced mastering of the raw material possibilities (Vandiver et al. 1989), but unfortunately very little of the hearth structures survived. There is thus little information about the earlier technological steps involved in forming clay kilns and firing clay figurines (Vandiver et al. 1989). The supposed gap between stone constructions or simple delineated hearths of the middle Palaeolithic and the walled clay kilns of the Gravettian may be bridged by the hearth structures in the Klisoura cave 1 (southern Greece) which are presented in this paper.

The Klisoura cave 1 is a complex of a rockshelter and a small collapsed karstic cave located in a gorge at the northern edge of the Argive Plain in north-western Peloponnese (Figures 1 and 2). Klisoura preserves a long cultural sequence spanning the periods between the Middle Palaeolithic and the Mesolithic; part of the sequence is presented in Figure 3. The Middle Palaeolithic layers (layer VI and below), still under excavation, are overlain by an early Upper Palaeolithic industry characterised by arched backed blades (layer V). Above this lies the first well-dated sequence of Aurignacian occupation in Greece. The Aurignacian layers (IV, all of III, 7, and 6a) have a combined thickness of about 1m and are characterised by steep, carinated and nosed end-scrapers from which bladelets were removed. Special cores for bladelets also occur. A higher frequency of blades and bladelets is observed in the lower part of the sequence. Several bone points and perforated marine shells were also found. Epigravettian layers (layers II) of 0.5m maximum thickness cover the lower sequence through an unconformity and a Mesolithic sequence (layers 3-6) is found locally (Koumouzelis et al. 2001).


The lower and middle Aurignacian sequence (layers IV, IIIb, IIIc, IIIe, IIIg, 7 and 7a) in Klisoura cave 1 contained remains of about 90 well-preserved hearths. Some of them just consist of a sequential accumulation of burnt remains. However, 54 hearths have basin-like, clay-lined structures (Koumouzelis et al. 2001; Pawlikowski et al. 2000). In addition, the excavations have revealed a well-preserved clay hearth structure with pronounced thickened rims and another 17 similar remains in the uppermost Aurignacian layers of the site (layers III, III' and III", implying a long tradition of producing such structures.

Clay hearth structures were not identified in the Middle Palaeolithic layers, or the layers above the Aurignacian sequence. There were hearths in the Middle Palaeolithic sequence, but these consist of undisturbed sequences of superimposed thin white ash and grey and black charcoal-rich layers. Such colourful sequences are known from other caves as well, e.g., Kebara in Israel and Theopetra in Greece (Meignen et al. 2001; Karkanas 2001). The Epigravettian and Mesolithic layers are characterised by the presence of mostly dispersed burnt remains, but a few thick flat in situ accumulations of ash were also identified, particularly in the Mesolithic layers. …