Earliest evidence of controlled fire making in Europe found
Charred bone, heat-rippled stone in Spanish cave date back 800,000 yrs. Cave has 2,300 heated or charred bones. Fossils of extinct animals also found with the tools. Some argue the the tools are some 600,000 yrs old
Prehumans living around 800,000 years ago in what’s now southeastern Spain were, literally, trailblazers. They lit small, controlled blazes in a cave, a new study finds.
Discoveries in the cave provide the oldest evidence of fire making in Europe and support proposals that members of the human genus, Homo, regularly ignited fires starting at least 1 million years ago, say paleontologist Michael Walker of the University of Murcia in Spain and his colleagues. Fire making started in Africa (SN: 5/5/12, p. 18) and then moved north to the Middle East (SN: 5/1/04, p. 276) and Europe, the researchers conclude in the June Antiquity.
If the age estimate for the Spain find holds up, the new report adds to a “surprising number” of sites from deep in the Stone Age that retain evidence of small, intentionally lit fires, says archaeologist John Gowlett of the University of Liverpool in England.
Excavations conducted since 2011 at the Spanish cave, Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar, have uncovered more than 165 stones and stone artifacts that had been heated, as well as about 2,300 animal-bone fragments displaying signs of heating and charring. Microscopic and chemical analyses indicate that these finds had been heated to between 400° and 600° Celsius, consistent with having been burned in a fire.
Walker’s group doubts that sparks from a brush fire near the cave’s entrance could have triggered fires five to seven meters inside the cave. Dry brush probably didn’t grow near the cave anyway, the researchers add. Geologic evidence suggests that around 800,000 years ago, the cave bordered a river and a swamp.
"Prehumans"? Please. These were humans, full stop. Almost certainly Homo erectus.