Determining if Charred Fossil bones from humans or wildfire?

Sep 2017
Are there any techniques in being able to determine if a fossil from a prey animal with charred corners on the bones is the result of a human fire or a wild naturally occurring fire?


Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
United States
Are there any techniques in being able to determine if a fossil from a prey animal with charred corners on the bones is the result of a human fire or a wild naturally occurring fire?
Good question. If they can determine how hot the fire was they might be able to tell, but I'm not certain how reliably they can do that without burned rocks as well.
Oct 2013
Planet Nine, Oregon
Looks as though it depends on context --and I would supopose if there are any cut marks on those burned bones. On pg. 6:

Also, from

5. Recognizing fire in the record

Fire on landscape is of deep interest, but it is practically impossible to distinguish between wildfires and similar fires that may have been started by humans. Some of our best clues as to how this might be done come from Australia. In a modern instance, the Martu people of the western desert only gave up their traditional fire stick farming methods in the 1960s. The change led to a great rise in the size of individual fires [78,79]. Through the systematic use of small fires the aborigines had habitually managed small mammal communities in a way that appears to enhance resources [80]; other hunter–gatherer studies imply also a concern for enhancing vegetation [54].
More generally, archaeological methodology has to focus on the restricted domains of sites where there has been notable human activity—possible home bases. The idea of the home base has been much debated [8082], but dense concentrations of stone tools as much as 2.5 Ma show that hominins remained in one place long enough or frequently enough that overnight stays were likely [83,84]—and if fire was in use it was likely to be employed on some of these, although the chances of preservation are very slight.
On occasion archaeology is capable of recognizing artefact evidence of fire beyond all doubt. One case is a preserved wooden fire ‘hearth’ from Guitarrero Cave in Peru, directly dated by radiocarbon to around 2000 years BP; cord and dowels from the site date to ca 10 ka [85,86]. The sockets where the fire drill was inserted are plainly visible.
Another is lumps of pitch preserved from a Neanderthal site at Königsaue in the foothills of the Harz Mountains in Germany [87]. Pitch, probably used as a fixative in hafting, can be made from tree bark only by maintaining high temperatures in a controlled fire for several hours. This can be regarded as almost the ideal case of fire documentation, since one piece of pitch retained a human fingerprint, and direct radiocarbon dating gave an age of ca 48 000 BP, on the limits of the technique, and compatible with a geological age of approximately 80 000 years. The use of gypsum plaster for hafting in the Middle East also implies the use of fire [88].
Occasionally, elsewhere, wooden artefacts may be part burnt or burnt. At Kalambo Falls in Zambia burnt wooden artefacts were found on Acheulean sites dating to ca 0.5 Ma [89,90]. At Beeches Pit, mentioned below, a refitting flint artefact set included two burnt specimens in the set of 27, a circumstance not readily consistent with natural fire [91,92].
Such examples emphasize the importance of context, and the point that an organized methodology is necessary for fire enquiries. In archaeology, a first general treatment was provided by Bellomo in the 1990s [93,94]; subsequently, micromorphological studies of sediments, magnetic methods—including magnetic susceptibility and palaeomagnetic techniques—and thermoluminescence measurements have all proved highly useful [95,96].
No technique on its own completely addresses the problems of enquiry. The strength of micromorphology is obviously its ability to look at the small scale. The scaling up to provide evidence of specific human actions is therefore more likely to come from archaeology; but multiple techniques are necessary for any full picture. Thermoluminescence and magnetic methods can provide estimates of critical factors such as temperatures and duration of burning [97].
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6. Fire origins in the archaeological record

The two earliest sites are in Kenya: FxJj20 at East Turkana, and site GnJi 1/6E in the Chemoigut Formation at Chesowanja near Lake Baringo (figure 3). These are both open sites. According to the original publications, FxJj20 preserves burned sediments and some heat-altered stone tools [98,99]. The site remains a strong candidate for early fire use and is currently under complete reinvestigation (S. Hlubik 2015, personal communication). Chesowanja preserves somewhat similar information, but the burnt material at the centre of the site consists not of a burnt patch, but of a few large clasts of baked clay [100,101]. The possibility that they could come from an adjacent (but lost) natural burning feature is difficult to exclude on present evidence, although the clasts are directly associated with numerous stone tools and faunal remains. A site at Gadeb in Ethiopia is also of similar age [102].

And, pg. 27 here: human activity or "natural burning"&f=false
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