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Fire as an Instrument: The Archaeology of Pyrotechnologies


Edited by Dragos Gheorghiu
2007. British Archaeological Reports International Series 1619 Pbk. 125pp. ISBN: 978-1-4073-0031-3

Reviewed by Alexander J.E. Pryor Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge his edited volume draws together a series of 13 papers that consider the use of fire in different archaeological contexts. It combines a selection of papers delivered at the ninth meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists in St Petersburg (2003) with more recent contributions, and the contexts covered range from Stone Age Eskimos to Mediaeval Poland. Although united by the theme of pryotechnology, the subject of each paper is quite specific and each contribution remains a discrete entity within the volume, with no attempt made by the editor to crossreference between them. A single paper (Claude Sestiers experimental analysis of the importance of skill in pyrotechnology) has been published in French and, while it certainly fits the theme of the book, the English summary is only very short. Given that every other paper is in English, this may decrease the accessibility of this paper to the majority of the books potential readers, and a longer English summary abstract would have been helpful. Overall, however, the volume is well laid out, with a good number of high-quality photographs and illustrations, and represents a useful series of papers on this under-studied topic. The stated purpose of the volume, given in the editors introduction, is to offer a material perception of fire which will be approached as an artefact, together with its material support (page 1). Within this context the first three papers are broadly theoretical, covering aspects of the construction, use and abandonment of hearths. The first of these considers practical aspects of the study of Stone Age hearths, seeking to identify the different purposes for which hearths may be used (for warmth, for cooking, indoor/outdoor contexts etc.). The second constitutes a purely theoretical paper looking at the social embeddedness and chane opratoire
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Book Reviews

of hearth construction, use and abandonment, while the third is Sestiers analysis of the agency and skill of the human actor. The analytical methods introduced in these papers provide an interesting set of guidelines for how hearths and fire installations can be studied and approached archaeologically, and successfully problematise the study and interpretation of fire usage in the past. The remaining papers concentrate on specific examples of the use of pyrotechnology in different contexts. Unfortunately, none of the papers relate to the theoretical concepts discussed in the first three chapters and some of the papers focus more on the archaeological context than on the pyrotechnology itself (e.g. Ralph Rowlett and Dragana Mladenovics description of coin-minting in the Iron Age oppidum of Titelberg, southwest Luxembourg). The range of topics is diverse, including a paper on the microscopic examination of a metal adze that determines details of how it was manufactured (Sariel Shalev) and a particularly interesting analysis of early iron objects produced across Europe during the Middle to Late Bronze Age, which suggests that these are made from iron produced during copper smelting processes, rather than from meteoritic sources (Stanislav Grigoriev). Several authors also mention the use of experimental reconstructions, with two papers concentrating specifically on the results of such activities: one that focuses on the technology of air-draught instruments designed to maintain a flow of air to the fire in different situations (Dragos Gheorghiu); and one that investigates the burning of rush leaves dipped in wax to produce the hot flame necessary for jewellery manufacture during the Bronze Age (Jacqui Wood). These examples give some idea of the diverse and unusual range of subjects covered in the volume and it is this range of topics and new perspectives that gives the book its appeal. Approached from the unusual perspective of pyrotechnology, each paper provides a fresh angle on the archaeology or period in question, which will be equally interesting for both the period specialist and the general archaeologist alike. Given the range of examples covered, the volume will probably be used most by those researching specific topics, who will read the specific chapters related to their work. For the more casual reader, however, there are many rewards to be had from reading around the book more widely, and the
Archaeological Review from Cambridge 24.1: 209 242

Edited by Nisha Doshi

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interesting and often thought-provoking conclusions to the papers can potentially be related to many other areas of archaeological research outside the specific context of the study.

Archaeological Review from Cambridge 24.1: 209 242