Intentional or unintentional house fires?

Carbonized plants are relatively commonly encountered during excavations of prehistoric houses in Denmark. The plant remains are found in posthole fills, pits, cultural layers, fire places and other features connected to the excavated houses.

In this presentation plant finds from two-aisled houses dated to the late Neolithic and the early Bronze Age will be discussed. In this period a number of very large grains finds are known, from preserved cultural layers in sunken areas of the houses. One good and recent example of this kind of finds comes from the early Bronze Age site of Hestehaven, where about 37 litres of carbonized grain was found on a floor layer in a sunken area of the house. The large grain finds suggest unintentional houses fires, and the preservation of large amounts of probably stored grain. Other plant finds for instance encountered in fireplaces probably derive from intentional fires and may have been deposited over time rather than deriving from one house fire event.

Carbonized grain finds from post hole fill in houses are hard to interpret. They could represent numerous events over time involving fire but could also derive from one unintentional fire. The possibility also exists that these kind of finds may represent intentional burnings of houses perhaps done in order to clean the area for the building of new houses, the establishing of fields etc.

The presentation will discuss the intentional and unintentional house fires in the period and the implications for interpreting the finds.