PhD grant for Andy Sorensen

NWO Humanities and the Humanities Regieorgaan have awarded a PhD grant to Andy Sorensen under the joint funding program PhDs in the Humanities. Andy will start his research on how long humans already have the ability to make fire on July 1st. 2013.

The earliest fire

  • PhD candidate: Andy Sorensen

  • supervisors: Prof. dr. Wil Roebroeks & Prof. dr. A.L. van Gijn

  • Start: 1st July 2013

  • Duration: 4 years

  • The ability to control fire is a pivotal trait of human culture and likely influenced both the physical and cultural development of our evolutionary lineage. We know fire fundamentally changed our relationship with the world by making previously uninhabitable climates tolerable, inedible foods palatable and more nutritious, and providing a focal point around which modern social relationships could develop. We know little, however, about when fire became part of the technological repertoire of our early ancestors. This chronological gap prevents a full understanding of how fire affected our physical form and cultural lifeways. Using Neandertals as a case study, a multifaceted approach is proposed to better understand the patterns of early fire use and, more specifically, to determine whether Neandertal use of fire was a regular occurrence, or merely an opportunistic phenomenon. To accomplish this task, an assessment will be made of the frequency and reliability of fire proxies from Neandertal sites, such as ash, burned earth and heated flint or bone, and compare this data to similar evidence from Upper Palaeolithic modern human sites to evaluate Middle and Upper Palaeolithic fire control techniques. In addition, microwear analyses will be conducted on archaeological flint assemblages to determine if direct physical evidence of artificial fire-making by Neandertals using stone-on-stone methods is present. This data will help narrow down the timeframe in which fire was used regularly in the past, leading to a better understanding of the interaction between fire and the development of human culture.


Prof. dr. Wil Roebroeks
Human Origins
Prof. dr. Annelou van Gijn
Material Culture Studies

Last Modified: 21-06-2013