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3 June 2014
Traces of early use of fire found in Spain

Early humans who lived in the Cueva Negra (Black Cave) of southeastern Spain about 800,000 years ago used fire, resources, and tools in their environment, according to a report co-authored by Michael Walker and his colleagues at Murcia University.
     In the face of a cliff overlooking the Quipar river, the rock-shelter was initially explored by archaeologists in 1981, but systematic excavations didn't begin until 1990 when a team led by Walker undertook detailed investigations which continued for 25 seasons. They uncovered 5 metres of sediment containing late Pleistocene finds, including early human teeth, a rich artefact assemblage, and remains of ancient flora and fauna indicating warm, moist environmental conditions.
     "The most important findings at Cueva Negra concern human activity," write Walker and colleagues in their report. "Undoubted evidence of fire has been uncovered."
     However, "A fire-place is not a hearth," the authors continue. "The people could have brought glowing brands left by a forest fire into the cave to establish and tend a fire where rain and wind would not put it out. This does not mean they could reproduce or control fire: there is a dearth of archaeological evidence for hearths or fire-pits before [500,000 years ago]."
     Cueva Negra is not the only site showing early use of fire by early humans. The Bnot Ya'akov Bridge site in Israel has been claimed to show human control of fire sometime between 790,000 and 690,000 years ago, and evidence has emerged at Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa for the use of fire by around 1 million years ago. Sites in Africa and China also showing this possibility, but Cueva Negra could be one of the earliest in Europe.
     Other findings suggested a clear mastery of material resources for survival. The assemblage of stone tool artefacts recovered show three different core reduction methodologies or sequences, and stones were sourced as much as 40 kilometres downstream and 30 kilometres upstream from the site.

Edited from Popular Archaeology (27 May 2014)

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