Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Quest for Fire - a million years ago?

Dating the first use of fire

We know Neanderthals used fire, as did the ancestor species Homo erectus. But when? Fire is one of the key technologies separating us from every other species on the planet. 
Evidence from a South African cave puts the first use of fire back to approximately one million years.  The analysis of the evidence of fire - burned bones over 30 meters in from the entrance to a cave - is a study in elimination. Was the fire lightning-caused? No, too far from the entrance. Cave dwellers probably found lightning-sparked fire and brought a burning branch into the cave. Spontaneous combustion of deep layers of bat guano? No, no evidence for that.  A one-time happenstance? No, fire was used at the site multiple times.  Humans were still far off from making and domesticating fire at will. That, archaeologists think, came about 600,000 years later.  But we now have a better idea about the timing of a seminal point in human existence. 

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