A new study by a team of researchers at the University of Haifa suggests that human beings began using fire at will around 350,000 years ago, with earlier uses likely more opportunistic than controlled.
Learning how to make fire at will is an accomplishment for ancient humans paramount to sending a man to the moon in modern times. However, up to now, no particular consensus has been reached regarding exactly when early humans gained control over fire and the ability to start fires when they needed to.
The team of researchers, led by Ron Shimelmitz (shown at right), an archaeologist in the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, recently published a study in the
Journal of Human Evolution suggesting that early humans learned to use fire at will about 350,000 years ago. This new information challenges some standard notions, including that the control of fire was necessary to facilitate the development of bigger brains as well as the migration of hominids into colder climates.
The discovery of evidence for fire control at 350,000 years has the implication that both larger brains and migrations to colder regions of the planet happened before humans acquired a mastery of fire.
The researchers analyzed artifacts collected from sedimentary layers in the floor of the Tabun Cave, which is located about 24 kilometers south of Haifa. Specifically, Shimelmitz and colleagues examined flints for evidence of burning or scorching at various levels of the cave’s sediment layers.
The Tabun Cave, which was declared highly important by UNESCO, has well-dated layers of sediment that are thought to cover some 500,000 years of human history. The researchers found a sudden appearance of burned flints from around 350,000 years ago, but very few older than this.
The authors of the report reasoned that, since wildfires rarely occur in caves, the appearance of burnt tools likely indicates the development of controlled fire use. Hominids probably used fire before this time in a more opportunistic fashion, they suggest.
(Source: Daily Digest News, 02/28/2015)