The significance of air circulation and hearth location at paleolithic cave sites

Yafit Kedar, Ran Barkai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hearths were constructed and used at Paleolithic cave and rockshelter sites in Africa, Europe and Asia as early as the late Lower Paleolithic period. The advantages of the use of fire have been widely researched for the last decades. However, only a few studies have focused on the possible negative impact of the use of fire within closed spaces, such as caves. One of the major negative fire products is smoke, which has an immediate, as well as long-term, effect on humans and may even prevent cave occupation after a short period. In this study we propose a basic air circulation model based on thermodynamics to represent smoke ventilation in caves. We employ this model to shed light on the relationship between smoke dispersal and cave structure, opening dimensions, hearth characteristics, and seasonal temperature fluctuations. We further show that hearth location was crucial in allowing humans to occupy prehistoric caves while using fire on a regular basis. We present preliminary insights from specific case studies, demonstrating the potential of understanding smoke ventilation in reconstructing the hearth season of use and location within the cave.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4
JournalOpen Quaternary
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019


  • Air circulation
  • Cave
  • Fire
  • Hearth
  • Paleolithic
  • Smoke


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