After performing an analysis on materials found in Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa — a site that past excavations have shown were occupied by humans — scientists found evidence of charred bone fragments and plant ash, which in turn is evidence for the use of fire. One might suggest that the fire could have been accidental, but scientists found the plant and bone evidence next to tools in a layer that dates to one million years old, which the scientists feel is evidence that fire was used by the humans who used the tools, one million years ago. This would push the earliest thought use of fire by humans back by around 300,000 years.
It is important to note that modern day humans, Homo sapiens, date as far back as only 200,000 years ago, so the humans in Wonderwerk Cave that could’ve used the fire were of another variety, quite possibly humans as early as Homo erectus. The team of researchers found that the fires did not heat the items in the cave above 1,3000 degrees Fahrenheit, which would suggest that grasses and leaves were used in said fires, as that kind of kindling would not be able to burn hotter.
The research team, led by the University of Toronto and Hebrew University, also found extensive discoloration of the cave’s surfaces that is common with burning. Interestingly, the research team feels the ash remains and burned bone fragments seem to have been burned locally in the cave, rather than carried to the cave by some outside force, like wind, which further suggests that fire was used intentionally, rather than randomly, to create the ash and char the fragments.
Of course, the method used for dating doesn’t always churn out 100% correct results each and every time — or even any time — which is why the news is that the research team discovered evidence for early humans using fire, not that they definitively found that said early humans did indeed use fire. However, the fact that the dating method used churned out evidence is far more interesting than the research team not finding any evidence at all.
The team plans on performing further research on the site in the future to find how, if determined that it was used, fire use developed over time.
(via Discovery News)
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