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In historic and modern usage, a hearth // is a brick- or stone-lined fireplace, with or without an oven, used for heating and originally also used for cooking food. For centuries, the hearth was such an integral part of a home, usually its central and most important feature, that the concept has been generalized to refer to a homeplace or household, as in the terms "hearth and home" and "keep the home fires burning".
In a medieval hall, the hearth commonly stood in the middle of the hall, with the smoke rising through the room to a smoke hole in the roof. Later, such hearths were moved to the side of the room and provided with a chimney. In fireplace design, the hearth is the part of the fireplace where the fire burns, usually consisting of masonry at floor level or higher, underneath the fireplace mantel.
The word hearth derives from an Indo-European root, *ker-, referring to burning, heat, and fire (seen also in the word carbon). In archaeology, a hearth is a firepit or other fireplace feature of any period. Hearths are common features of many eras going back to prehistoric campsites, and may be either lined with a wide range of materials, such as stone, or left unlined. They were used for cooking, heating, and the processing of some stone, wood, faunal, and floral resources. Occasionally site formation processes—e.g., farming or excavation—deform or disperse hearth features, making them difficult to identify without careful study.
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