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Coal in the Ice Age: The Excavation of a Palaeolithic Settlement at Ostrava-Petřkovice in Silesia*

  • Bohuslav KLíama

THE high carboniferous sandstone formation named Landek, on the left bank of the order at Ostrava-Petřkovice, is the site of the most important palaeolithic settlement at present known in Silesia. The exploratory excavations carried out there in 1952, by the Brno Archaeological Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, were continued systematically the following year, particularly to determine whether coal had been intentionally used as fuel by the palaeolithic hunters.

The second season’s excavations brought to light numerous particles of coke and coal in the ash layers which had resulted from the dispersal of hearths by solifluxion. Fragments of coal unaffected by heat were rare in comparison with the coke particles, indicating that the coal had been almost completely converted into the ash which colours the whole cultural stratum grey, especially near the hearths. While the discovery of coal is not, by itself, decisive evidence of its use as fuel, it is corroborated by the fact that the coal is found in various forms, and it may be concluded as a result of the 1953 excavations that 30,000 years ago, in the Ostrava-Petřkovice region, man used coal as a source of heat. This remarkable conclusion is more easily acceptable if it is borne in mind that the Ostrava coal-measures rise to the surface in the immediate neighbourhood of the site, and that the use of coal, though only as a material for ornaments, is known in other instances, e.g. at Kesslerloch, and at Kniegrotte. That the coal-fed fires reached high temperatures is shown by the considerable degree of incineration of the animal bone fragments (strongly resembling charcoal), which occur, together with particles of mammoth ivory, in the ash.

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1 Described by Dr Klima in ANTIQUITY, XXVIII, 1954, 4-14.

The Editor wishes to thank Mr Paul Pollak for translating this article, which was first published in Archeologické rozhledy, VII, 1955.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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