Researchers Discover Evidence of Fire Use One Million Years Ago

April 16, 2012 / South Africa, Africa
View from the bottom of the excavated area towards the entrance of Wonderwerk Cave.

Photo by R. Yates

Microscopic traces of wood ash found in Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa have been identified as the earliest known evidence of the use of fire.

Discovered by an international team of researchers led by the University of Toronto and Hebrew University, the ash was found alongside animal bones and stone tools in a stratigraphic layer dated at one million years old.

The team had been working on analysing material from earlier excavations by Peter Beaumont of the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, South Africa when they discovered ashed plant remains and burned bone fragments, both which appear to have been burned locally and not carried into the cave by wind or water.

The analysis pushes the timing for the human use of fire back by 300,000 years, suggesting that human ancestors as early as Homo erectus may have begun using fire as part of their way of life, Michael Chazan, anthropologist at the University of Toronto

South Africa’s Wonderwerk cave is an important site with an extensive record of human occupation, it has been studied by archaeologists since the 1940’s. This most recent research is available in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The control of fire would have been a major turning point in human evolution, the impact of cooking food is well documented, but the impact of control over fire would have touched all elements of human society. Socializing around a camp fire might actually be an essential aspect of what makes us human. Michael Chazan, anthropologist at the University of Toronto

Scientists find evidence that human ancestors used fire one million years ago [University of Toronto]

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