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Proto-humans mastered fire 790,000 years ago

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    Proto-humans mastered fire 790,000 years ago * 16:32 27 October 2008 * NewScientist.com news service * David Robson The charred remains of flint from
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 27, 2008
      Proto-humans mastered fire 790,000 years ago

          * 16:32 27 October 2008
          * NewScientist.com news service
          * David Robson

      The charred remains of flint from prehistoric firesides suggest our ancient ancestors had learned how to create fire 790,000 years ago.

      Previous research had shown that early humans – probably Homo erectus or Homo ergaster – from this period could manipulate and use fire, but it wasn't clear whether they had the ability to create the fire themselves, or whether they stole fire from natural occurrences like lightning strikes.

      To investigate, Nira Alperson-Afil from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, analysed archaeological remains from the shore of an ancient lake near the river Jordan.

      The site includes 12 layers of remains from different groups of early humans covering a 100,000 year span, and has been dated back to 790,000 years ago, long before modern Homo sapiens evolved. As each society left the region, water from the lake washed over the site and buried the remains, preserving their tools for archaeologists to analyse.

      The remains included 500,000 chips of broken flint, produced as the early humans crafted their stone axes and knives. Roughly 2% of these chips were cracked and charred by fire, and the team mapped where each burnt fragment came from.

      The analysis revealed that the charred remains were tightly clustered around certain areas, suggesting the flint chips had fallen into a campfire as early humans honed their tools by the fireside.

      Because these charred remains exist in all 12 layers of the site, every society must have had access to fire. It's unlikely that all 12 societies would have been lucky enough to find a natural source of fire, says Alperson-Afil, so they must have been able to create it themselves.

      "It seems the ability to create fire was embedded within their culture, together with their stone tools," she says. "If they were relying on nature, we wouldn't find these remains in such a repetitive way."

      This ability would have been essential for man's eventual migration from Africa to cold Europe. However, the exact technique still remains unclear, since no obvious means of ignition were found at the site.

      Journal reference: Quaternary Science Reviews (DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2008.06.009)

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