The Earliest Known Uses of Coal as a Fuel

The Earliest Known Uses of Coal as a Fuel

◆ CHAPTER 1 The Earliest Known Uses of Coal as a Fuel: Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Bronze Age Coal Fires ◆ CHAPTER CONTENTS 1.1  The Earliest Kn...

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The Earliest Known Uses of Coal as a Fuel: Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Bronze Age Coal Fires


1.1  The Earliest Known Uses of Burning Coal  Introduction Coal as a Fuel Paleolithic and Mesolithic Coal Fires Bronze Age Coal Fires Additional Occurrences Acknowledgments Important Terms References WWW Addresses: Additional Reading

Smelting ore to reduce lead (top left) and copper (top right). Coal from a mine (bottom right) is used as the fuel. Tin and lead smelting predate copper, which was smelted across China during the Bronze age. Bronze workings in China developed independently of outside influences. This metal signified wealth and social status. It is an alloy, usually of copper and tin, and may contain smaller amounts of other metals including nickel, zinc, manganese, and aluminum. It may also contain metalloids such as arsenic, silicon, and phosphorous. The components in bronze affect its physical properties, including toughness and hardness. The illustrations here are from China, AD 1637 (Sung, 1997).

Coal and Peat Fires: A Global Perspective Edited by Glenn B. Stracher Copyright © 2019 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


1.1 The Earliest Known Uses of Burning Coal Glenn B. Stracher J. Marion Wampler Li Jun Wang Yongqiang

Photo from García (2017, p. 118).

A shaft furnace from the first millennium BC, used for smelting copper in Hongfengshuiku, Daye County, Hubei Province, China. Hongfengshuiku is riddled with copper slag, bloomery iron, and technical ceramics.

   Introduction Coal has been mined for millennia, primarily because of the chemical-potential energy it contains. When this fossil fuel burns, its potential energy is converted into electromagnetic and heat energy. Ignition may be due to natural causes like lightning strikes, forest or brush fires, spontaneous combustion, or even volcanism. In addition, ignition may be linked to human activities. As such, ignition may be unintentional as is sometimes the case with mining and other activities. It may also be for an intentional nefarious purpose (arson). However, it is usually for beneficial purposes, namely, for use as a fuel (Stracher and Taylor, 2004; Stracher, 2010). The Industrial Revolution that began in Great Britain about 1760 (Wikipedia, 2018A) and the amplified need for burning fossil fuels because of mass production launched innovations in steam-powered machinery such as railroad locomotives and steamships. Much is written about the historic use of fossil fuels and innovations in technology that began before and accelerated with the onset of the Industrial Revolution. There are fewer publications about the prehistoric use of coal as a fuel, and most publications about the Bronze Age use are about China. Although the ignition source (possibly woody vegetation) is questionable, this chapter chronicles documented locations of the oldest known uses of burning coal and briefly describes the periods during which those uses occurred. 

  Coal as a Fuel Although the most common uses of coal today are to generate electricity and to manufacture steel, liquid fuel, and cement, it has many other uses. These include its use in the pharmaceutical, agricultural, toiletries, transportation, plastics, tar, and recreational industries (World Coal Association, 2018; National Geographic, 2018). It is not known when coal was first mined and used as a fuel or how it was ignited as the need arose, although the first written accounts about it being a combustible rock and its use for metalwork were written by the Greek philosophers Aristotle, Theophrastus (Aristotle’s student), and Pliny (Moore, 1922, p. 2; Caley and Richards, 1956). What is certain is that Homo (Homo sapiens and extinct species) has benefitted for millennia from coal by utilizing the heat energy produced during combustion for a multitude of purposes including cooking, warming their dwellings, socializing around a hearth, enhancing visibility in low light, physical protection from predators, firing pottery, modifying the mechanical properties of tools such as their toughness or hardness, and extractive metallurgy (i.e., smelting) (Stracher, 2007; Daemen, 2009; Gowlett, 2016; American Coal Foundation, 2018). If readily available, coal could have been very useful as a fuel in communities where woody vegetation was sparse because of soil or climatic factors or because it was exhausted by activities such as the construction of lodgings and boats. Even if wood was abundant, coal may have been preferentially used, notwithstanding its higher ignition temperature, because it burns longer and produces more heat energy per unit of mass than wood (Bartok, 2003, p. 4). 

The Earliest Known Uses of Coal as a Fuel: Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Bronze Age Coal Fires


Harvesting Potential Energy The idea of harvesting the potential energy in coal for use as a fuel may have arisen when Homo observed a lightning strike, forest fire, or volcanic pyroclastics ignite a coal bed or when burning coal ignited by spontaneous combustion was observed. How Homo learned to purposefully ignite coal is not known. Before matches were invented in China, dry tinder-like fragments of woody vegetation, moss, or fungus were ignited by using a wooden stick as a hand drill, in a bow drill, in a fire plough, and so on (Wikipedia, 2018B) to convert the work done by friction into heat energy that then ignited the tinder. Alternatively, the tinder may have been ignited from sparks made by percussion, like striking together two stones such as flint against pyrite or marcasite or after metal was available, flint against a fire striker. Once ignited, the tinder might be hot enough to ignite coal. According to the writings of Tao (∼AD 950), nonfriction matches were invented for cooking and heating by court women of the Northern Qi Dynasty in preparation for an enemy invasion in AD 577. The matches were pinewood sticks dipped in and impregnated with sulfur. They ignited quickly when touched to a preexisting flame and were used to light a fire elsewhere (MacDonald et al., 2008, p. 40). Tinder may have been placed in multiple places on a sheet or fragments of coal and quickly lit with the matches, causing the coal to ignite. 

  Paleolithic and Mesolithic Coal Fires The Paleolithic Period (Old Stone Age) began with the earliest known use of stone tools including hammerstones and the biface. Depending on the reference, it occurred from about 3.3 to 2.6 million years ago and lasted until the end of the Pleistocene Epoch, when the last glacial period ended around 12,000 years ago (Groeneveld, 2017; Smithsonian Institution, 2018; Wikipedia, 2018C; International Commission on Stratigraphy, 2018). Based on the tools used and the materials used to make them such as stone, bone, or ivory, the Paleolithic is subdivided into the Lower or Early Paleolithic Period, Middle Paleolithic Period, and Upper or Late Paleolithic Period. The beginning and end of each of these subdivisions depend on geographic location (Groeneveld, 2017; Toth and Schick, 2007). The Lower Paleolithic Period, also called the Early Stone Age in African archaeology, occurred from about 3.3–2.6 million to 300,000 years ago. Early Homo produced primitive tools including hammerstones, scrapers, and stone knives followed by stone hand axes, picks, and cleavers. There is some evidence for the use of fire by 1.5 million years ago or possibly earlier (Toth and Schick, 2007; Wikipedia, 2018C). The Middle Paleolithic Period, depending on geographic location, occurred from about 250,000 to 30,000 years ago. New stone bifacial tools appeared such as the bout-coupé axe (Figure 1.1.1), leaf points, awls, and scrapers as did the first known cave paintings and widespread use of fire by Homo. Although Homo still lived in caves, these dwellings were partitioned for different activities (Ruebens and Wragg Sykes, 2016; Groeneveld, 2017; S ­ mithsonian Institution, 2018; Hoffmann et al., 2018). The archaeological evidence for the use of fire includes burnt artifacts like bone, wood, and vegetation, and stone tools found in fire hearths along with baked sediment (Toth and Schick, 2007; Gowlett, 2016; Goldberg et al., 2017). The Upper Paleolithic Period began about 50,000–40,000 years ago and lasted to about 10 000 years ago (Wikipedia, 2018C; Toth and Schick, 2007). This time is associated with Homo sapiens sapiens; that is, Homo sapiens and extinct subspecies like Homo neanderthalensis. Stone tools continued to be produced and bows and arrows and spear throwers appeared. In addition, artifacts made of bone, ivory, and antler were produced as were musical instruments, architectural structures, paintings, sculptures, and engravings. The Mesolithic Period (Middle Stone Age) followed the Paleolithic and preceded the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age). Depending on the geographic location, the Mesolithic occurred between 12,000 and 7000 years ago whereas the Neolithic occurred between 10,200 and 2000 years ago. During the Mesolithic, Homo sapiens were hunters and gatherers although some domestication occurred. Farming and new technologies like pottery making developed during the Neolithic (Wikipedia, 2018D,E). New stone tools for hunting and domestic use appeared during the Mesolithic. Many are illustrated in online resources such as the Museum of The Stone Age (2018). Mesolithic tools were typically made of chert with edges flattened by hand and they were sometimes reworked. They include scrapers to prepare animal hides for tents and clothing; a carpenter’s tool called the tranchet Adze (Figure 1.1.2) that was used to make boats, housing, and fishing wharfs; and microliths (Figure 1.1.3), small tools diagnostic of the Mesolithic and beyond. Microliths were


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Figure 1.1.1.  A Middle Paleolithic bout-coupé biface made of chert; also called a flat-butted cordate or Paxton-type hand axe (Ruebens and Wragg Sykes, 2016). Such tools were bifacially worked and are roughly symmetrical along one dimension. They are cordiform in shape, resemble a triangle with rounded vertices, and have a straight (right side of the photo) or slightly convex edge. They were made by Neanderthal during the Mousterian, a Middle Paleolithic culture of Neanderthal that lasted from about 160,000 to 40,000 years ago (Shaw and Jameson, 1999, p. 408). This Neanderthal biface is as old as 40,000 years, measures 75 × 50 mm, and was collected from the surface of a field in Hampshire County, South Downs chalk hills, southeastern England. The soil here consists of about 0.6 m of clay mixed with chert and is underlain by chalk. Photo from Museum of The Stone Age (2018), courtesy of Richard Milton.

Figure 1.1.2.  A Mesolithic chert tranchet adze (or adz). This is an axe head with a sharp and arched cutting edge that runs along its length and at a right angle to the handle. The tool was made by removing stone flakes, called tranchet flakes, parallel to the desired cutting edge of the tool. This sample was made about 8000 years ago, measures 151 × 48 mm, has a mass of 406 g, and was found on the surface of a field in Hampshire County, South Downs chalk hills, southeastern England. The soil here consists of about 0.6 m of clay mixed with chert and is underlain by chalk. Photo from Museum of The Stone Age (2018), courtesy of Richard Milton. made from flakes of chert, quartz, or agate knapped off a larger piece and sometimes were reworked. They usually measured 1 cm or less in length and 0.5 cm or less in width but in some cases, were up to 2 cm wide and 5 cm long. They were attached to bone or wooden shafts with tree resin or twine for use as hand tools or to make arrows and spears for hunting. No more than two microliths were used per arrow but spears had as many as 6 to 18 (Wikipedia, 2018D; Museum of The Stone Age, 2018). Southern France The oldest known use of coal (lignite) as a fuel by Homo occurred at a Stone Age settlement at Causse du Larzac, a karst plateau in the south Massif Central of southern France. This settlement is Les Canalettes of Middle Paleolithic (Mousterian) age. Lignite was also burned much later at the nearby Mesolithic settlement of Les Usclades (Théry et al., 1996).

The Earliest Known Uses of Coal as a Fuel: Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Bronze Age Coal Fires


Figure 1.1.3.  Mesolithic microliths reworked to be used as points. The one on the left measures 29 mm ×13 mm and has a mass of 1.8 g. The other one is 28 mm ×16 mm and its mass is 2.4 g. They are from Sussex, England and about 8000 years old. Photo from Museum of The Stone Age (2018), courtesy of Richard Milton.

Scanning electron microscope images of compressed cellular structures in what were thought to be charcoal fragments found at the settlements and laboratory replication of those structures with a mechanical press demonstrated that these samples are lignite. Outcrops of Jurassic lignite occur 7–15 m from the settlements. Their compressed structures appear analogous to those in the samples collected from the settlements, whereas other coal samples from the settlements came from outcrops elsewhere. Coal was possibly used as a fuel because of a wood shortage (Théry et al., 1996). A thermoluminescence date for the lignite at Les Canalettes is 73,500 ± 6000 BP (Valladas et al., 1987; Meignen and Brugal, 2002). For different cultural settlements excavated at Les Usclades, the minimum radiocarbon date obtained by Michel Fontugne at the University of Versailles, France, is 8220 ± 70 BP and the maximum is 10,250 ± 80 BP (Théry et al., 1996).  Czech Silesia The second oldest known use of coal as a fuel by humans was discovered during a 1952–1953 archaeological excavation of an approximately 177 m2 area of the Landek Formation, an Upper Carboniferous sandstone, along the Oder (or Odra) River at Ostrava-Petřkovice in Czech Silesia, near the border with Poland. The Brno Archaeological Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences uncovered a 30,000-year-old Paleolithic settlement where unburned coal, coke, gray ash, mammoth ivory, and fragments of charred and calcined animal bones were all found in association with six fire hearths. The incinerated bones include those of mammoth, horse, and reindeer. The hearths, fired to a red-color, were disrupted by solifluction but remain preserved in bowl-shaped depressions. They were found at the settlement and near coal measures, that is, Upper Carboniferous coal-bearing rocks. Stone artifacts, mostly made of flint, were found near the hearths and include microlith blades, scrapers, serrated blades, and assorted points (KLíama, 1956).

    Bronze Age Coal Fires China The use of copper in China began during the Late Neolithic and extended into the Chalcolithic Period (Copper Age) that occurred in China from 3000–2000 BC (Birx, 2006, p. 570). The Chalcolithic Period was the transition time between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. Overlapping with the Chalcolithic Period and depending on


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geographic location, the Bronze Age in Asia and the Middle East was from 3300 to 1200 BC (History, 2018). ­Carbon-14 dates matched with ceramics at archaeological sites reveal the use of copper and alloys from 3000 to 1500 BC at these sites, extending across northeastern Asia. In China, these sites range from the Xinjiang region in the northwest to the Central Plains (notably the Bronze Age settlement of Erlitou in the Yellow River valley of Henan Province), onward to Liaoning Province in the east, and as far north as Inner Mongolia (Linduff and Jianjun, 2008). It was after the Xia Dynasty (2700–1556 BC) and during the time of the Shang Dynasty (Yin Dynasty; 1556–1046 BC) in the Yellow River valley in the Central Plain, that the Early Bronze Age, when tin was mixed with copper, developed across China (Figure 1.1.4). At that time, the physical properties of metal were well understood, and both the alloying process and metal casting were perfected (Linduff and Jianjun, 2008). The Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BC) conquered and replaced the Shang Dynasty (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018). The Zhou Dynasty is the earliest Chinese dynasty corroborated from its own chronicles. The Warring States Period then occurred during the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC) to create a unified China. This was followed by other dynasties. It was not until the Song Dynasty (AD 960–1279) that the bronze metallurgy of the Shang Dynasty was recognized by the inscriptions on bronze vessels created during the Shang Dynasty (Wikipedia, 2018F). Ancient Use and Casting of Bronze in China  Ancient cultures across China were interconnected and they used metals, symbolic of social status and wealth. Bronze workings in China developed independently of influences from other countries (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018). Along with gold, silver, brass, and copper, bronze was used to make items for personal adornment including rings, earrings, and nose rings. Copper and bronze were used to make vessels, chisel awls, parts of chariots, and weapons including knives. An important use for bronze was for sacraments that honored recently departed relatives as well as ancestors. Bronze artifacts were frequently included in burials (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018; Linduff and Jianjun, 2008). In China, bronze was likely produced only by piece-mold casting until the end of the Shang Dynasty. In this method, a model is first made of the item to be cast in bronze and then clay is emplaced around the model to make a mold. The clay is then cut into sections as it is removed from the model. The pieces of clay are then reassembled and fired to make the mold into which bronze is poured for casting (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018). 

Figure 1.1.4.  Bronze artifacts from the Shang Dynasty of China. Left: Hou Mu Wu (Great Mother Wu) bronze ding, excavated in 1939 in Anyang city in Henan Province. The Emperor Zu Jia had this made for his mother, Wu. The 933 kg ding measures 112 × 79.2 cm along its open sides on the top (not visible here). It is 133 cm from the bottom of the legs to the top of the handles and the wall thickness is 6 cm. Right: Bronze fang zun (four-goat square vessel), excavated in Huangcai Town, Hunan Province, in 1938. Its maximum width is 52.4 cm and it is 58 cm high. Only people of high social status could acquire either of these kinds of bronze vessels. They were put on a table and filled with wine or food for different occasions such as a festival, anniversary, or government promotion. People would kneel by the table to worship their ancestors in gratitude. Both artifacts are now on display at the National Museum of China in Beijing. Photos from the personal collection of Li Jun.

The Earliest Known Uses of Coal as a Fuel: Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Bronze Age Coal Fires


Burning Coal in Bronze Age China  One of the earliest known uses of coal occurred in China about 4000 BC, for embellishing the human ear (Robinson and Hsu, 2017, p. 9). However, except for the Stone Age fires in France and Silesia, the earliest known uses of coal as a fuel were found at archaeological sites near coal bed outcrops in northern and western China (Dodson et al., 2014). Radiocarbon calendar dates (RCCDs) were obtained by Dodson et al. (2014) for human, pig, sheep, and cattle bones; millet seed; and charcoal from archaeological sites in Shaanxi province and Inner Mongolia. At these sites, coal fragments are mixed with human and domestic animal remains and in Inner Mongolia, also with pottery and bronze slag. The coal-slag association confirms the use of coal as a fuel for smelting. The earliest such use is indicated by RCCDs of 3496 ± 132 BC and 3491 ± 132 BC for charcoal from a Neolithic home (Zhang, 2013) excavated in 2010 at the Xiahe Sitexi at Xiahexi Village in Baishui County, Shaanxi province. Coal occurs with pottery-slag conglomerate at Zhukaiguo, where RCCDs of four of five bone samples indicate occupancy about 1900 BC. More recently, excavations at the Jiren Taigoukou Ruins in Qialege’e Village in the Ili Valley of Nilka County in the Xinjiang Uygur Region of northwest China, near the present-day border with Kazakhstan, yielded a radiocarbon date of about 3600 ± 35 years on animal bones found at the ruins (Ruan and Wang, 2017; Shen, 2014, Figure 1.1.5). Unburned coal, coal ash, ashcans, and coal-fire pits for protracting village fires were found at the site. The coal was burned as a fuel there because of the scarcity of woody plants. It was used for cooking and heating and likely to smelt copper, as suggested by copper tools found at the site (Chan, 2015). By 1000 BC, coal used to smelt copper was mined at Fushun, on the Hun River in the Liaoning province of northeastern China (Chan, 2015; Kopp, 2018; Wikipedia, 2018G). The Eocene coal in Fushun is subbituminous to

Figure 1.1.5.  Bronze Age (3600 ± 35 BP) settlement of Jiren Taigoukou in Nilka County, Xinjiang Uygur Region, northwest China. The 14C date is for animal bone excavated at the site. The date was acquired at the Peking ­University mass accelerator lab in China and the Beta Analytic Testing Laboratory in Miami, Florida (Wang ­Yongqiang, Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology, personal communication). (A) Small-scale, residential-smelting operations, F2, F5, and F8, and open pits excavated by archaeologists from the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology (Ruan and Wang, 2017). The ore was mined about 20 km away. Some pits were for wooden house posts; some were used for food storage; and others contained stones, animal bones, or pottery. (B) Copper blade excavated from the area outlined by the box in (A). (C) Coal at the excavation site was used as a fuel for smelting copper. Photos ­courtesy of Wang Yongqiang, Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology, Urumqi City, China.


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bituminous in rank and was deposited in a fresh-water swamp (Johnson, 1990). Fushun contains several underground mines and is also the location of the West-Open Pit Mine, the largest such coal mine in Asia, where mining began in the 12th century and is currently winding down because of slope instability and a nearly exhausted supply of coal (Lei et al., 2015; Wikipedia, 2018G). Fushun is known today in China by several other names including the Capital of Coal and City of Coal, and it is the home of the Fushun Mining Group Co., Ltd., a state-owned coal and coal bed methane company that processes coking and steam coal and methane (Johnson, 1990; Sui, 2001; Wikipedia, 2018G).  Wales The two fuels most commonly used for cremation throughout human history are wood and coal. The first use of coal in Europe as a fuel for cremation occurred during the early Bronze Age in southern Wales (Brooks et al., 2011). Bronze Age human bones excavated there were found with coal fragments attached to them (Alberta Culture and Tourism, 2018). The cremated remains of Bronze Age humans, more common for that time than inhumations (noncremated burial), are found across Wales in pits and mounds along with amber, jet, ceramic beads, animal bones, flint scrapers, and vessels. Inhumations usually include skeletal remains accompanied by pottery; animal bones; and flint and metal artifacts including knives, scrapers, and arrow heads (Pettitt, 2015, p. 219–220). The Capel Eithin cemetery near Gaerwin on the Welsh island of Anglesy contains evidence of Neolithic and Bronze Age activity as well as Roman and Early Christian activity during the Iron Age. Radiocarbon dates from this cemetery indicate that cremation had begun in Wales by 2300 BC. Cremated remains at the Bronze Age to Medieval cemetery at Tandderwen, near the town of Denbigh in northern Wales, are as old as 2000 BC, and inhumations there from the Bronze Age date from 2120 to 1880 BC (Pettitt, 2015, p. 218–220; Ancient Monuments, 2018; Coflein, 2018).

    Additional Occurrences Possible Uses of Coal for Smelting in Serbia and the Middle East The oldest known bronze alloy containing a significant amount of tin (11.7% by weight) dates to about 4650 BC. It was found at a Neolithic archaeological site, that of the Vinča culture, in Ploćnik, southern Serbia (Radivojević et al., 2013; Haemus, 2018). Named for the village of Vinča, 14 km downstream from Belgrade along the Danube River, the culture thrived from 6000 to 3000 BC in Yugoslavia and western Romania (Sutherland, 2015). The Vinča engaged in farming, exchanged artifacts with other communities, and were the first known culture to smelt copper. The symbols they inscribed on clay artifacts such as pottery may be an ancient form of written communication (Wikipedia, 2018H; Sutherland, 2015). Although the fuel source for smelting is undocumented, the Vinča alloy found in Ploćnik is bronze foil, found on the floor of a dwelling near pottery vessels and next to a copper workshop. The foil may have been used to embellish the vessels for decorative purposes (Radivojević et al., 2013; Haemus, 2018). In addition to the Vinča bronze, there are numerous occurrences of this and other metals used by ancient civilizations. The Israelites, Sumerians, Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians all smelted and used metals for a variety of purposes ranging from household items such as plates and vessels to weapons of war. Copper, lead, tin, mercury, gold, and iron were all used by these civilizations well before 2000 years ago (Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2008; Makin Metal Powders, 2018) but the fuel used for smelting during this time is also undocumented.  More About Europe Coal and coal cinders in England, found among Roman ruins, reveal that the Romans were burning coal there soon after AD 43 (Kopp, 2018). Beginning around AD 100, the Romans burned coal to honor Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and military accomplishments. By AD 200, the Romans collected surficial deposits of coal from coalfields throughout England. They burned this coal to make iron weapons and to heat the baths in their military forts and in

The Earliest Known Uses of Coal as a Fuel: Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Bronze Age Coal Fires


the dwellings of wealthy Romans. Often, the baths were heated with a hot air circulation system called a hypocaust (Speight, 2013, p. 129–130; National Geographic, 2018; Kopp, 2018; Alberta Culture and Tourism, 2018). The Romans left England in AD 410, and from then until the end of the 12th century, no record exists of coal being burned in England, although it may have been. Around 1200, monk Reinier, who became prior of the Benedictine abbey of St. Jacques at Liège (Dury, 2018), a city on the Meuse River in eastern Belgium, was the first to record the mining of coal in Europe and its use by blacksmiths to smelt and forge metals. Limited use and trade of coal in Europe continued from the 13th century until the Industrial Revolution, when the demand for and use of coal as a fuel increased rapidly in Europe and abroad. Developments that contributed to this demand were the use of coke by the British iron founders Abraham Darby and John Wilkinson for manufacturing iron and the coal-powered steam engine invented by the Scottish mechanical engineer James Watt (Daemen, 2009; Curley, 2012, p. 90; Speight, 2013, p. 130; Kopp, 2018). As pointed out by García (2017), metallurgical analyses of iron artifacts can be used to determine if coal was the fuel used for smelting because of sulfur impurities in the iron from the coal.  The Americas In northern Peru, anthracite coal was used for metallurgical processes from around 100 BC until at least the late 1800s. Carbon-14 dates of AD 1312–1438 reveal that a 25 × 70 m burn occurred a few meters from Ciudadela Tschundi in the Peruvian city of Chan Chan in the Moche Valley. This pre-Columbian city was the capital of the Kingdom of Chimor before the Incan conquest of 1470. The fire blackened and deteriorated adobe structures in this ciudadela, one of the city plazas for royalty in Chan Chan (Wikipedia, 2018I; Brooks et al., 2011). The chemical composition of burn ash and the presence of sulfur in the soil at Tschundi suggest that the burn fuel was coal for a fire that reached at least 1320°C and possibly was used for human cremation (Lechtman and Moseley, 1975; Brooks et al., 2011). From the beginning of the 14th century and through the 16th, in what is now Mexico City, the Aztecs burned coal for heating, firing clay pottery, and cooking. They also used carved ornaments from it, including jewelry ­(Somervill, 2012, p. 11; Anderson, 2014). From about the 13th century to the 17th, in what is now northern Arizona, the Hopi burnt coal that they strip- and augermined at coal-bearing mesas, including the Black Mesa and the Antelope Mesa. Hearths for the coal firing of pottery vessels occurred along mesa benches, and coal was burned for in-home domestic use. At Antelope Mesa, the Hopi burned an estimated minimum of 100,000 tons of coal in 300 years (Daemen, 2009; Bernardini, 2005, p. 132). During his travels in the 13th century, the Venetian writer, explorer, and merchant Marco Polo observed the use of burning coal in China. Coal was not well known to most people in Europe and it was new to Marco Polo. His statements about its preferential use to wood as a fuel was recognized in prehistory and it applies even today: “It is a fact that all over the country of Cathay there is a kind of black stone existing in beds in the mountains, which they dig out and burn like firewood. If you supply the fire with them at night, and see that they are well kindled, you will find them still alight in the morning; and they make such capital fuel that no other is used throughout the country. It is true that they have plenty of wood also, but they do not burn it, because those stones burn better and cost less. Moreover, with that vast number of people, and the number of hot-baths that they maintain—for everyone has such a bath at least 3 times a week, and in winter if possible every day, whilst every nobleman and man of wealth has a private bath for his own use—the wood would not suffice for the purpose” (Yule, 1871, p. 395). Peat is a precursor of coal. People living in the former USSR, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, England, and Ireland began using this fossil fuel at least 2000 years ago, as a substitute for firewood, for heating and cooking (Andriesse, 1988, p. 115). But the earliest recorded uses of peat as fuel is a story for another time. 

 Acknowledgments The authors thank Professor Zeng Qiang, Institute for Arid Ecology and Environment, Xinjiang University, Urumqi City, China and David Larreina Garcia, Institute of Archaeology, University College London, England for their assistance in the acquisition of photos about China. We also thank Elsevier’s Earth and Planetary Sciences staff for their review of and assistance with the publication of this work.

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    Important Terms

bout-coupé Bronze Age Capel Eithin Capital of Coal Chalcolithic Period (Copper Age) Chan Chan chemical potential energy coal coal measures City of Coal ciudadela cremation Early Bronze Age fossil fuel Fushun heat energy Homo Homo sapiens sapiens hypocaust Industrial Revolution inhumations Jiren Taigoukou Ruins Les Canalettes Les Usclades

Lower Paleolithic (Early Stone Age) Mesolithic Period (Middle Stone Age) microliths Middle Paleolithic Period Mousterian Neolithic Period (New Stone Age) oracle bone script Ostrava-Petřkovice Paleolithic Period (Old Stone Age) peat percussion piece-mold casting Qin Dynasty Shang Dynasty (Yin Dynasty) Song Dynasty smelting technical ceramics tranchet Adze Vinča culture Warring States Period West-Open Pit Mine Xiahe Site Zhou Dynasty

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The Earliest Known Uses of Coal as a Fuel: Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Bronze Age Coal Fires


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  WWW Addresses: Additional Reading (1) American Coal Foundation: Timeline of Coal in the United States (2) Ancientcraft: Stone Age Paleolithic Stone Tools (3) Art in China, by Craig Clunas   Oxford University Press (4) Beginning of Metallurgy, by Katheryn Linduff, Han Rubin, Sun Shuyun   Edwin Mellen Press (5) China in the Early Bronze Age: Shang Civilization (6) Chinese Archaeology (7) Coal: A Human History, by Barbara Freese   Perseus Publishing (8) Ding Vessel (9) Four-Goal Square Zun (10) Fushun, China (11) Hopi and Coal Mining on Black Mesa, Arizona (12) Hypocaust (13) Iron and Steel in Ancient China   E. J. Brill Publisher (14) Mesolithic Period (15) Neolithic Period (a)  Encyclopedia Britannica (b) Wikipedia (16) Oracle Bone Script (17) The Coal Industry: 1600–1925 (18) The Story of Coal (19) The Vinča Culture: Ancient Wisdom (20) Yinxu, China