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10 February 2004
Harnessing fire on Bronze Age Thera

Recent findings brought to light during the excavation of foundations for a new roof at the archaeological site at Akrotiri on Thera (Greece) have provided more information on daily life during the Early and Middle Bronze Ages. Of particular interest are the various ways in which inhabitants harnessed the power of fire to serve a variety of day-to-day needs, ranging from the domestic to the ceremonial. At a recent Archaeological Society gathering Professor Christos Doumas explained the use of fire in the home, in the preparation of food, in the economy and in ritual acts.
     Bronze Age Thera (Santorini) reached the peak of its development shortly before it was buried by tons of lava by the eruption of the volcanic island. By this time the use of fire, evidenced by the latest findings from the third millennium BCE, had reached high levels of sophistication. Ovens, various types of cooking pot, rotary skewers and portable grills seem to have been common items in every home and were designed to make the most efficient use of fire. Ovens dating from the Middle Cycladic period consisted of a lower section to contain fire and an upper section for baking. In the Late Cycladic there are stone or clay artefacts partly buried in earth, apparently serving as an extinguishing area to save fuel or prevent fires. The use of fire-resistant three-legged pots seems also to have been widespread, and indicates a change in dietary habits toward more boiled foods, according to Professor Doumas. Analysis shows evidence of a considerable fatty content of the normal diet. These pots or portable hearths had high legs and were also used for heating in the winter.
     Other impressive finds include long flat objects with incisions on one side, used as bases for skewers and found exclusively in Late Cycladic houses, usually in pairs. A peculiar clay implement is thought to have been the base for a torch, and lighting was also provided by a number of different portable and table lamp types. Fire was used in pottery, metallurgy, lime kilns, the manufacture of textiles and in making honey finds have included beautiful small, perforated implements used as bee smokers. And a fresco at Akrotiri shows a priestess carrying a censer during a religious ceremony.

Source: Kathimerini (7 February 2004)

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