Hearth

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In common historic and modern usage, a hearth (pronounced /ˈhɑrθ/) is a brick- or stone-lined fireplace or oven often used for cooking and/or heating. For many years, the hearth was considered an integral part of a home, often its central or most important feature. This 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 fireplace design, the hearth is often considered the visible elements of the fireplace, with emphasis upon the floor level extension of masonry associated with the fireplace mantel.

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Archaeological features

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 like stone or left unlined. Hearths were used for cooking, heating, and processing of some stone, wood, faunal, and floral deform or disperse hearth features, making them difficult to identify without careful study.

Lined hearths are easily identified by the presence of fire-cracked rock, often created when the heat from the fires inside the hearths chemically altered and cracked the stone. Often present are fragmented fish and animal bones, carbonized shell, charcoal, ash, and other waste products, all embedded in a sequence of soil that has been deposited atop the hearth. Unlined hearths, which are less easily identified, may also include these materials. Because of the organic nature of most of these items, they can be used to pinpoint the date the hearth was last used via the process of radiocarbon dating. Although carbon dates can be negatively affected if the users of the hearth burned old wood or coal, the process is typically quite reliable. This was the most common way to heat interior spaces and for cooking in cool seasons.

Hearth tax

In the Byzantine Empire a tax on hearths known as kapnikon was first explicitly mentioned for the reign of Nicephorus I (802–811) although its context implies that it was already then old and established and perhaps it should be taken back to the 7th century AD. Kapnikon was a tax raised on households without exceptions for the poor.[1]

In England, a tax on hearths was introduced on 19 May 1662. Householders were required to pay a charge of two shillings per annum for each hearth, with half the payment due at Michaelmas and half at Lady Day. Exemptions to the tax were granted, to those in receipt of poor relief, those whose houses were worth less than 20 shillings a year and those who paid neither church nor poor rates. Also exempt were charitable institutions such as schools and almshouses, and industrial hearths with the exception of smiths' forges and bakers' ovens. The returns were lodged with the Clerk of the Peace between 1662 and 1688.[2]

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