Israeli researchers have recently learned when exactly humans started using fire in their daily life. They used evidence gathered from a cave located in northern Israel and found that the oldest archeological layer holding evidence of routine prehistoric use of fire dated back 350,000 years.
Scientists conducted archaeological excavations in Tabun Cave, located 15 miles south of Haifa, and found burned flint tools and flint debris in a layer within 52-feet deep patch of sediments. Archeologists said this layer was nearly 350,000 old.
Deeper layers of sediment that dated back up to 500,000 years also contained flint tools, but the instruments didn’t seem to have been used to kindle fire by their pre-historic owners. However, Israeli researchers were thrilled to have the opportunity of analyzing an archeological site covering such a log span of time.
“Tabun cave is unique in that it’s a site with a very long sequence. We could examine step by step how the use of fire changed in the cave,”
Ron Shimelmitz, co-author of the new findings and archaeology professor at the University of Haifa, said.
The Israeli researchers analyzed about 100 consecutive layers of sediment and flints in the Tabun Cave. The flints found in layers older than 350,000 years did not show signs of burn. Earlier layers however contained flints of red or black color with small cracks that occur when humans use it to light fire.
Since no wildfire was possible in a protected area such as a cave, archaeologists believe that the fires were started by our human ancestors. Researchers say that the flints were used to both light fires and maintain these fires gathered from natural wildfires.
Previous diggings conducted in several archaeological sites were consistent with the 350,000 years theory, but they couldn’t help researchers collect enough evidence to build the theory since they didn’t record such vast periods of time like the Tabun Cave.
Also, the Tabun Cave findings show that ancient humans from eastern Mediterranean started using fire around the same point in time since these findings were matching with previous archaeological findings conducted by European researchers.
In 2011, scientists found that humans routinely used fire between 400,000 and 300,000 years ago. But the Tabun Cave research shows that humans only started using fire after they had moved into colder regions. Fire was used in cooking and providing light, warmth and protection from wild animals.
However, not anyone agrees with the date of first controlled use of fire. For instance, Richard Wrangham, Harvard professor, says that humans started using fire to cook their meals nearly 2 million years ago since earlier studies showed that fire was a leading factor in the evolution of more complex human brains.
Image Source: Sciencemag