|15 February 2014
300,000-year-old hearth found in Israel
By most estimates, humans discovered fire over a million years ago, but when they really began to control and use it for their daily needs is still debated. A team of Israeli scientists recently discovered the earliest evidence of repeated fire building over a continuous period, dating to around 300,000 years ago, in the Qesem Cave archaeological site near present-day Rosh Ha'ayin (Israel).
Excavations identified a thick deposit of wood ash in the center of the cave. Infrared spectroscopy revealed that mixed in with the ash were bits of bone and soil that had been heated to very high temperatures - proof that the area had been the site of a large hearth - and a great many micro-strata in the ash provided evidence that it was used repeatedly over time.
In and around the hearth area, archaeologists found large numbers of flint tools that were clearly used for cutting meat. In contrast, flint tools found just a few meters away had a different shape, designed for other activities. The arrangement of activities into different parts of the cave points to an organization of space typical of modern humans, and suggests the cave was a sort of base camp that prehistoric humans returned to again and again.
The researchers think that these findings, along with others, are signs of substantial changes in human behavior and biology that commenced with the appearance in the region of new forms of culture - and indeed a new human species - about 400,000 years ago.
Edited from Weizmann Wonder Wander (February 2014)
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