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Saturday, April 7, 2012
Million Year Old Fire Pit
This is hard evidence that the use of fire came early and was the
enabling tool more than any other that then drove the domestication of
humanity.This domestication led to the
changeover of our face and jaws and plausibly the increase in our brain size.
As important, fire opened up a wide range of new plant foods that
became abundant in the diet.It likely
drove the transition to a more plant based diet as enough then could be
consumed without a bulky body.Recall
that a bear in the spring eats a marine sedge which only releases twenty
percent food value.Most wild plants are
just as parsimonious when eaten raw.
With fire, the stew pot soon took over.Toxic roots became viable starch and tough gamy meat broke down enough
to eat easily.We eat that way today.
Usually unspoken though is that fire immediately enhanced tool making
itself with the invention of the fire hardened spear which has been in use
continuously ever since to this day.This was a vast improvement over the previous throwing stone. Unfortunately, it fails to leave a trace in
the archeological record.
Hot Find! Humans Used Fire
1 Million Years Ago
Charles Choi, LiveScience
Date: 02 April 2012 Time:
03:01 PM ET
Researchers found evidence of human fire use in
South Africa's Wonderwerk Cave (shown here), a massive cavern located near the
edge of the Kalahari Desert. CREDIT: M. Chazan
Ash and charred bone, the
earliest known evidence of controlled use of fire, reveal that human ancestors
may have used fire a million years ago, a discovery that researchers say will
shed light on this major turning point in human evolution.
Scientists analyzed material
from Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa, a massive cavern located near the edge of
the Kalahari Desert. Previous excavations there had uncovered an extensive
record of human occupation.
Microscopic analysis revealed
clear evidence of burning, such as plant ash and charred bone fragments.
These materials were apparently burned in the cave, as opposed to being carried
in there by wind or water, and were found alongside stone tools in a layer
dating back about 1 million years. Surface fracturing of ironstone, the kind
expected from fires, was also seen.
Micrograph of burned bone on a
paleosurface at Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa.
CREDIT: Image courtesy of P. Goldberg.
Although modern humans are the
only human species alive today, originating about 200,000 years ago, other
human species once roamed the Earth, such as Homo erectus, which
arose about 1.9 million years ago.
"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," said researcher Michael Chazan, a
paleolithic archaeologist at the University of Toronto and director of the
university's archaeology center.
The research team's analysis
suggests that materials in the cave were not heated above about 1,300 degrees
Fahrenheit (700 degrees Celsius). This is consistent with preliminary findings
that grasses, brushes and leaves were burned for these fires — such fuel would
not have been capable of hotter flames.
Fire would have helped early
humans stay warm and keep nighttime predators at bay, and enabled cooking,
which would have made food more digestible. In addition, "socializing
around a campfire might actually be an essential aspect of what makes us human,"
Chazan said. "The control of fire would have been a major turning point in
Harvard anthropologist Richard
Wrangham has speculated that controlled fires and cooked meat
even influenced human brain evolution. He suggests that humans were cooking
their prey as far back as the first appearance of Homo
erectus 1.9 million years ago, just when humans were experiencing major
brain expansion, and proposes that cooking allowed our ancestors to evolve
larger, more calorie-hungry brains and bodies, and smaller guts suited for more
easily digested cooked food.
"It's possible we may
find evidence of fire use as early as Wrangham has suggested," Chazan told
Future research will analyze
both earlier and later materials from this site to see how fire use might have
developed over time.
"We're opening the
question of how fire fit into the life of early humans and how that might have
changed over time," Chazan said.
The scientists detailed their
findings online April 2 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of