Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Oldest Use Of Fire In Humans

A view of the excavation area in the Wonderwerk Cave, South Africa
Our ancestors first discovered how to use stone tools some 3 million years ago. Simple rock hammers and edged stones have been found in the rift valley near fossils associated with Homo habilis.

The next great step was the control of fire: how to create and maintain it. This took far longer. Palaeontologists have found objects which could be the remains of cooking pots. Yet their true nature is disputed. More reliable archaeological evidence suggests that we only mastered fire some 700,000 years ago.

Now this date has been pushed back significantly by remarkable new finds from the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa, a country famous for caves with unique archaeological remains of our early ancestors.

An international team bed by anthropologists from the University of Toronto and the Hebrew University have found traces of wood ash alongside charred animal bones. Along with stone tools the remains were found in a layer of sediment in the cave, dated to 1 million years old. This pushes back the date of fire use by 300,000 years. It is likely that the creature was probably Homo erectus: one of the more advanced hominid species, with a large brain-case and the ability to manipulate complex stone tools.

'The control of fire would have been a major turning point in human evolution" said Michael Chazan, an anthropologist, director of the University of Toronto's Archaeological Center and co-author of the study. 'The impact of cooking food is well documented, but the impact of control over fire would have touched all elements of human society. Socializing around a camp fire might actually be an essential aspect of what makes us human.'