|13 December 2014
Earliest known systematic use of fire for cooking
For years, archaeologists have been digging their way through prehistoric layers of Qesem Cave, near the town of Rosh Haayin 12 kilometres east of Tel Aviv (Israel).
After 14 years, archaeologists have penetrated about 10 metres below what was the original ceiling. They have found thousands of recycled tools, including bone hammers and reworked flints.
Life in the region dates back at least 1.5 million years, but Professor Barkai says a dramatic change occurred 400,000 years ago, when the elephants that had served as a main food source disappeared. In the quest for survival, the cave dwellers began hunting fallow deer instead of elephants, and cooking the meat. Their ancestors probably ate their elephants raw.
The cave was occupied on and off from about 400,000 to 200,000 years ago. In a patch that once served as a hearth, layers of hardened ash date back 300,000 years. Here the earth is packed with bone fragments, including a horse's jaw with two front teeth. Though sporadic use of fire existed much earlier, Qesem Cave has been established as the site with the earliest evidence of the systematic use of fire for roasting meat on a daily, domestic basis.
On average, 80 deer were needed to make up the food provided by one elephant. The cave dwellers also gathered small fruit and nuts and collected wood for fires.
The cave was organised with different areas serving as a kitchen, a workshop, and an area where children appeared to have practiced making flint tools of their own. The hearth also appears to have served as a kind of central campfire.
Professor Barkai said that evidence of some of the same behaviour, technologies and methods had been found as far away as Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, and that there must have been communication between the early humans in the region.
Edited from The New York Times (1 December 2014)
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