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Neolithic use of tinder fungi

30 Apr 2018
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An article posted from the Autonomous University of Barcelona - Identifying the use of tinder fungi among neolithic communities at la Draga - reports on research proving that inhabitants of the Neolithic community at La Draga in Spain used fungi to light or transport fires 7,300 years ago. 

Neolithic use of tinder fungi

Sample of Ganoderma adspersum with signs of carbonization. Image: la Draga team.

The discovery represents one of the oldest examples of the technological use of fungi documented to date, and is the result of several archaeological interventions at the site, which also yielded an exceptional collection of fungi, unique in all of prehistoric Europe.

The study, published recently in the journal PLOS ON (see below), was conducted by Marian Berihuete-Azorín (Hohenheim University), Josep Girbal (UAB), Raquel Piqué (UAB), Antoni Palomo (Museum of Archaeology of Catalonia) and Xavier Terradas (CSIC-IMF).

Fruiting bodies of Ganoderma adspersum. Image: la Draga team.

Raquel Piqué, researcher at the UAB Department of Prehistory, stated that despite the use of fire being well documented at the La Draga site, there was no proof of the materials used to light or transport it. The study of the fungi proved it.

 
Article continues below
 

The majority of fungi recovered at La Draga are polypore, growing on dead tree trunks and parasitising living trees. They are non-edible species that have traditionally been used to light fires, and are therefore known as 'tinder-fungi.' Their woody structure makes them highly inflammable, and therefore ideal for starting and transporting fire. Species used for this purpose include Daedalea quercina, different kinds of Ganoderma, Coriolopsis gallica and Daldinia concentrica, all of them documented at La Draga.

Neolithic use of tinder fungi. Spain

Location of the site. Image: la Draga team.

Tinder fungi were used to catch the sparks produced by striking flint against a mineral rich in ferric sulphide such as pyrite or marcasite. The researchers say that the discovery makes La Draga an exceptional example for the study of prehistoric fungi. The site produced a higher variety of fungi than others retrieved to date.

Until now, the few archaeological discoveries of fungi belonged to sites in northern and central Europe, and only in a few cases was it possible to demonstrate technological uses. One of the most important was at the Mesolithic site of Starr Carr in England, in which samples were also interpreted as having been intentionally transported in order to be used as tinder-fungi. Another notable example, but chronologically more recent than La Draga, are the remains transported by the iceman Ötzi as part of his equipment.

The Neolithic site of La Draga, located at the eastern shore of Lake Banyoles, is one of the first enclaves where Neolithic farming societies decided to settle in the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula, about 7,300 years ago, transforming the surroundings in order to carry out the agricultural and livestock practices necessary for their subsistence. The most outstanding feature at the site is the conservation of elements built with wood and other organic materials, an exceptional feat for such an early society and which contributes to a more complete comprehension of these first farming societies of the westernmost Mediterranean.

Marian Berihuete-Azorín et al, Punk's not dead. Fungi for tinder at the Neolithic site of La Draga (NE Iberia), PLOS ONE (2018). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0195846

Abstract
This paper presents the study of the fungi remains preserved in the waterlogged deposits of the Neolithic site of La Draga. These resources had the potential of being used as food and medicine, but also as tinder. Fire was without a doubt one of the most important resources for past people. It was used for lighting, heating, processing food and other materials, cooking and protection, and also possessed social and ritual significance. Hearths are one of the most common features at archaeological sites, but very often little attention is paid to the question of how these fires were lit, and they are seldom reflected in the archaeological record. In order to produce fire by percussion, an intermediate material is required between the sparks and the fuel. Fruiting bodies of fungi are a potential form of tinder, but are less inclined to be well-preserved than other materials. This paper presents the fungal fruiting bodies found at the Neolithic site of La Draga and discusses the meaning of their presence within the archaeological context of the site and European Prehistory.

Full paper:

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0195846

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