Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

300,000-year-old hearth found: Microscopic evidence shows repeated fire use in one spot over time

Date:
January 27, 2014
Source:
Weizmann Institute of Science
Summary:
When did humans really begin to control fire and use it for their daily needs? Scientists discovered in the Qesem Cave, an archaeological site near present-day Rosh Ha'ayin, the earliest evidence -- dating to around 300,000 years ago -- of unequivocal repeated fire building over a continuous period. These findings help answer the question and hint that those prehistoric humans already had a highly advanced social structure and intellectual capacity.

Upper left: Infrared spectrum of the grey sediments, right, showing that the dominant material is calcite, the mineral of which the wood ash is composed. Lower left: Photograph of the cave during excavation; arrow pointing to the hearth. Upper right: micro-morphological image of the grey sediment showing dark grey particles and patches corresponding to the remains of wood ash. Lower right: Scan of a micro-morphological, thin section showing the layered burnt bones (yellow, brown and black fragments), intermixed with grey sediments.
Credit: Image courtesy of Weizmann Institute of Science

Humans, by most estimates, discovered fire over a million years ago. But when did they really begin to control fire and use it for their daily needs? That question -- one which is central to the subject of the rise of human culture -- is still hotly debated. A team of Israeli scientists recently discovered in the Qesem Cave, an archaeological site near present-day Rosh Ha'ayin, the earliest evidence -- dating to around 300,000 years ago -- of unequivocal repeated fire building over a continuous period. These findings not only help answer the question, they hint that those prehistoric humans already had a highly advanced social structure and intellectual capacity.

Excavations in Qesem Cave have been ongoing since 2000. The team is headed by Profs. Avi Gopher and Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University. Dr. Ruth Shahack-Gross of the Kimmel Center for Archeological Science at the Weizmann Institute has been involved in this archaeological research since excavations began, and she collects samples on-site for later detailed analysis in the lab. Shahack-Gross, whose expertise is in the identification of archaeological materials, identified a thick deposit of wood ash in the center of the cave. Using infrared spectroscopy, she and her colleagues were able to determine that mixed in with the ash were bits of bone and soil that had been heated to very high temperatures. This was conclusive proof that the area had been the site of a large hearth.

Next, Shahack-Gross tested the micro-morphology of the ash. To do this, she extracted a cubic chunk of sediment from the hearth and hardened it in the lab. Then she sliced it into extremely thin slices -- so thin they could be placed under a microscope to observe the exact composition of the materials in the deposit and reveal how they were formed. With this method, she was able to distinguish a great many micro-strata in the ash -- evidence for a hearth that was used repeatedly over time. These findings were published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Around the hearth area, as well as inside it, the archaeologists found large numbers of flint tools that were clearly used for cutting meat. In contrast, the flint tools found just a few meters away had a different shape, designed for other activities. Also in and around the area were large numbers of burnt animal bones -- further evidence for repeated fire use for cooking meat. Shahack-Gross and her colleagues have shown that this organization of various "household" activities into different parts of the cave points to an organization of space -- and a thus kind of social order -- that is typical of modern humans. This suggests that the cave was a sort of base camp that prehistoric humans returned to again and again.

"These findings help us to fix an important turning point in the development of human culture -- that in which humans first began to regularly use fire both for cooking meat and as a focal point -- a sort of campfire -- for social gatherings," she says. "They also tell us something about the impressive levels of social and cognitive development of humans living some 300,000 years ago." 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.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Weizmann Institute of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. R. Shahack-Gross, F. Berna, P. Karkanas, C. Lemorini, A. Gopher, R. Barkai. Evidence for the repeated use of a central hearth at Middle Pleistocene (300 ky ago) Qesem Cave, Israel. Journal of Archaeological Science, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2013.11.015

Cite This Page:

Weizmann Institute of Science. "300,000-year-old hearth found: Microscopic evidence shows repeated fire use in one spot over time." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140127101236.htm>.
Weizmann Institute of Science. (2014, January 27). 300,000-year-old hearth found: Microscopic evidence shows repeated fire use in one spot over time. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140127101236.htm
Weizmann Institute of Science. "300,000-year-old hearth found: Microscopic evidence shows repeated fire use in one spot over time." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140127101236.htm (accessed October 23, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Sunken WWII U-Boat That Fired On U.S. Convoy Found

Sunken WWII U-Boat That Fired On U.S. Convoy Found

Newsy (Oct. 22, 2014) U-576, a long-lost German U-boat the U.S. sank in 1942, has been found just 30 miles off North Carolina's coast and near the wreckage of another ship. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Turns Out Jack The Ripper's True Identity Is Still Unknown

Turns Out Jack The Ripper's True Identity Is Still Unknown

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) After testing DNA from a shawl found near one of Jack the Ripper's victims, a scientist said he'd identified the killer. New reports refute the claim. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) A 380-million-year-old fish may be the first creature to have copulative sex - and it was side by side with arms linked, like square dancers. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) With Sweden on the look-out for a suspected Russian sub, a lot of people are talking about the Cold War, but is it an apt comparison? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins