• Ashes to Ashes: Identifying archaeological fuels

      Batt, Catherine M.; Bond, Julie M.; Griffin, Greggory A.
      Understanding fuel use is important in researching ancient communities. This project developed methods to identify archaeological fuel from midden, hearth, and ash samples using comparison to modern analogues. Modern analogue fuels were ashed at 2000C, 4000C, and 9000C then analysed with a suite of methods, the results were then used to inform the development of an approach for the identification of archaeological fuels. These methods were tested using samples from Ness of Brodgar, Knowe of Swandro, and Smerquoy/Muckquoy in Orkney. Magnetic susceptibility, scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, pH and Munsell colour assignment were chosen based upon previous archaeological, biofuel, and soil pollution research. The methodologies were refined with the analysis of ash from fuels including peat, seaweed, driftwood, willow, hazel, heather, grasses, cow dung, sheep dung, and bone. Modern analogue fuels at increasing temperatures showed an intensification in magnetism and alkalinity, and an alteration to mineral components during the chemical reaction of combustion that is indicative of fuel type and temperature. Principal components analysis confirmed matches between archaeological samples and modern ash, indicating a strong relationship between peat fuels and the archaeological samples. A correlation is also demonstrated between some of the archaeological samples and sheep dung, driftwood, willow, and animal bone. It is evident that each archaeological site has unique patterns of both fuel type and temperature. This shows that in the absence of abundant traditional wood fuel resources, the occupants of these sites used a combination of alternative fuels.