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During the 2002 Summer Field School at the Dust Cave Archaeological site in Florence, Alabama, an experiment was conducted to test the effects of heating objects on a prepared surface, an area of fire-hardened clay. Cooking was believed to be one of the main functions of these surfaces. The experimental prepared surfaces were created to mimic those found in Dust Cave and replicate possible uses for the surface. One large surface was fired, while a smaller one was merely heated with coals. Fish and seeds were used to test the effectiveness of using the surfaces to cook. In addition, lithics were added to the fire to analyze incidental heat damage. The fired surface itself was analyzed in order to compare with fragments excavated in Dust Cave.
Large amounts of fire-hardened red clay excavated from Dust Cave in Florence, Alabama, are hypothesized to have been used as prepared surfaces by the inhabitants of the area from the Late Paleo-Indian through the Middle Archaic cultural components. The exact uses of these prepared surfaces are yet to be determined. This experiment attempted to replicate these prepared surfaces and use them to cook fish (Channel Catfish and Largemouth Bass) and pokeweed seeds, as well as heat flakes of Blue/Gray Fort Payne chert. The items used in the experiment were all easily accessible and proved to have been present in daily life during the time Dust Cave was inhabited. All objects placed in the fire or on the surfaces were then examined, as well as the surfaces themselves. The results indicated that a prepared surface is capable of cooking as well as creating heat damage on lithics. The surface did not specifically affect the seeds. However, due to factors beyond the scope of this experiment, it is uncertain whether a direct correlation can be made between the elemental objects and artifacts found in Dust Cave and those created in this experiment.