About This Project

I will conduct a series of experiments looking at fire micro-residues in modern and archaeological contexts to determine expectations of intentional fires and compare results to FxJj20 AB, Koobi Fora, Kenya, a site dated to 1.6 Mega annum, where burned bone and sediments have been identified. I will determine the what evidence can be expected and whether that evidence will preserve over time, forming the basis for future fire studies in archaeological contexts.

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What is the context of this research?

This project is part of a larger research project investigating the origins of fire use in the human lineage. While some researchers think that regular fire use didn't begin until 350-50 thousand years ago 1, there is evidence in the human paleontological record to suggest that fire use may have been responsible for the evolution of modern human body forms, beginning with Homo erectus around 2 million years ago 2. The larger body and brain size of H erectus, along with smaller teeth and guts indicate an increase in diet quality, possibly from cooking food, which increases digestibility and caloric return of food, and reduces toxins and pathogens. This research adds another tool for discovering how and when our ancestors began using fire, a critical question in human evolution.

What is the significance of this project?

The methodology proposed for this project has been successfully used in later contexts, and cave sites, where evidence is more likely to preserve. We know that it is possible for these micro-residues to preserve in very ancient contexts outside of caves, but we do not understand the relationship of these micro-residues to behaviors that can be demonstrated in the archaeological record. This project will look at micro-residues in modern contexts resulting from specific fire-using behaviors in comparison to the background signature of the environment, and then apply the data from the experiments to an archaeological site where fire has been identified through bone and sediment. This will look at issues of preservation and movement of the microscopic particles through time and space.

What are the goals of the project?

The project will set experimental fires, some with experimentally produced stone tools. I will sample the sediments within and around the fire and sample burned and unburned tools to determine if micro-residues recovered within the intentional fires are different from the micro-residues recovered outside the fires. When this is established, I will sample sediment and stone from an archaeological site where fire has been identified by clusters of burned bone and sediment. Samples from the site will be taken from within and outside the clusters on site as well as from areas around the side where no archaeology has been found 1. The results will allow me to identify whether the evidence found with site can be related to the patterns observed in the modern contexts.


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This equipment will allow me to extract the micro-residues of fire from sediment and stone tools. Sodium Polytungstate (SPT) powder is used to make a heavy liquid. Samples are mixed in this and then centrifuged to separate the micro-residues (phytoliths and microscopic charcoal) from the sample. Sonic cleaner will extract micro-residues from stone tools by dislodging them from the crevices of the tools. Micro-residues will float to the top of the sample during centrifuge spinning and will be siphoned from the SPT solution and placed on glass slides. The Dinolite microscope is a rugged portable microscope which will be used to count the microscopic particles retrieved

Endorsed by

This project has the potential to make major contributions to our understanding of a critical threshold in human evolution. The harnessing of fire as a technology to modify food items would have made substantial changes to the biology and behavior of our hominn ancestors. UNitl recenlty identifying this feature was something of a mytsery. Advances in
I fully endorse this project. I have known Sarah for six years; she was my Teaching Assistant at Rutgers and we both work in the Turkana Basin. Sarah’s project has brought paleoanthropology /Paleolithic archaeology as close as we’ve ever been to scientifically demonstrating early hominin use of fire in open air settings, which is of great importance. I know first hand Sarah is right person to conduct this research, building on her years of experience and the logistical infrastructure provided by the Koobi Fora Field School.

Project Timeline

Apr 21, 2017

Project Launched

Jun 20, 2017

Travel to Koobi Fora, Kenya

Jun 29, 2017

Complete experiments, collect and run experimental samples

Jul 02, 2017

Comparison of experimental to environmental data; determine patterns associated with known behaviors

Jul 11, 2017

Excavate at FxJj20 AB, collect and run archaeological samples, 

Meet the Team

Sarah K Hlubik
Sarah K Hlubik


Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
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Team Bio

Koobi Fora Field School website

I work with the Koobi Fora Field School, run through The George Washington University. This field school emphasizes training and education of undergraduate researchers, and strives to make students active participants in research relevant to the field. Students are given opportunities to be contributors to research and are included in presentations and publications.

Sarah K Hlubik

I have been interested in archaeology since I was a small child. During my undergraduate years, this merged with my fascination with evolutionary theory and I began studying evolutionary archaeology. I have been looking at the ways in which the archaeological record can inform us about when and where human ancestors began using fire. This topic is so interesting because it is critical to understanding how humans have evolved; an early adoption of fire as a tool for cooking or warmth could explain why Homo erectus (~1.9 million years ago) looks so much like modern humans and how it was able to leave the African plains and colonize other places in the Old World. My research has taken me to Koobi Fora, Kenya, a beautiful and remote fossil and archaeological locality where many famous sites and human ancestors have been found. My work has given me the opportunity to work with the Koobi Fora Field school, helping to train the next generation of paleoanthropologists and archaeologists. This research is so fascinating to me because there are so many facets to studying it: traditional archaeology, experimentation, geology, and novel methods that look at microscopic residues of fire on stone, bone and sediment.

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Additional Information

This project will be conducted during the Koobi Fora Field School Field season, to help reduce field costs, and allow for training undergraduate researchers on collection and analysis techniques. Field school students will be integrated within the research and included on subsequent publications. Your support of this project will not only directly impact the research being conducted, but will also provide the means to improve the training for students on the field school.

Project Backers

  • 43Backers
  • 50%Funded
  • $2,470Total Donations
  • $57.44Average Donation
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