Ash has been found in a South African cave that humans would have used to cook with fire A million years ago.
The discovery involves the first evidence found from the use of this revolutionary technology, say the researchers. But some experts say that more evidence needed before concluding that humans cooked regularly on those dates.
- Wonderwerk Cave, where 1 million year old evidence of fire has been found
Francesco Berna, an archaeologist at Boston University in Massachusetts and his colleagues, found ashes of burned grass, leaves, bushes and bone fragments in sediment 30 meters within Wonderwerk cave in the province of North Cape. This cave is one of the places where humans lived oldest known and shows evidence that life developed there at least two million years.
It is not possible to determine what species of hominids inhabited the cave a million years ago, but the team believes it was probably the Homo erectus. The ash chips, ranging from a few millimeters to a few centimeters long, are well preserved. They have jagged edges, which shows that were not burned elsewhere and then they went to the cave, something that would have softened the edges.
Berna and his colleagues searched for sediments in bat droppingsas large piles of guano can get hot enough to spontaneously burn, but there was no trace of it.
“This leaves us with the conclusion that the fire had to be created by hominids.”Says Berna. The evidence is published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Cooking the food made it chewy and aided digestion, so the first humans who adopted it could get more energy of the same amount of food and spending less time searching, but it has been difficult to determine when did they jump.
Unlike stone tools, evidence of fire, as well as ash and coal, easily destroyed by wind and rain, and even when such remains are found, determine if the fire was natural or man-made it's hard.
Burned materials have been found dating back to between a million and a million and a half years at the Swartkrans deposit in South Africa, and between 700,000 and 800,000 years ago in a place in Israel called Gesher Benot Ya’aqov. But both places are also exposed to where lightning could have started the fire.
It might not have happened in Wonderwerk cave. Use fire and handle it it's not the same thing, says Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
“I think of it as humans used fire in this place, but I don't think it means that they used it frequently. To make such a clarification we should see bonfires and chimneys, but we do not", He says. "If we discover more remains of fire from this time in history and observe that the cave fires are different, then the kitchen hypothesis would hold, but we have not gotten there yet.”.
The first evidence of the regular use of fire for cooking dates from 400,000 years ago. Paola Villa, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History in Boulder, argues that more evidence needed. “Isolated evidence is inconclusive. To support these arguments, sediments from numerous sites of the same period would have to be analyzed.", He says.
Berna thinks they could find more evidence. "The fire was only confirmed when the sediment was analyzed at the microscopic level. It is possible that the reason we have not seen more evidence of the beginnings of the fire is because we have not used the appropriate methods", He says.
Graduated in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication, since I was little I have been attracted to the world of information and audiovisual production. Passion for informing and being informed of what is happening in every corner of the planet. Likewise, I am pleased to be part of the creation of an audiovisual product that will later entertain or inform people. My interests include cinema, photography, the environment and, above all, history. I consider it essential to know the origin of things to know where we come from and where we are going. Special interest in curiosities, mysteries and anecdotal events in our history.