Early human ancestors needed high-level intelligence to use fire, new research suggests.
The study, published in February in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal, argues that fire use requires long-term planning, group cooperation and inhibition. In combination with evidence for early fire use, the study suggests that the early human ancestor Homo erectus may have been smarter than previously thought.
“Early humans would have had to have been fairly clever to keep a fire going by cooperating, not stealing food or not stealing fire from other people,” said study author Terrence Twomey, an anthropologist at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Read more.
Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist at Harvard, claims that hominids became people—that is, acquired traits like big brains and dainty jaws—by mastering fire. He places this development at about 1.8 million years ago. This is an appealing premise no matter who you are. For those who see cooking as morally, culturally, and socially superior to not cooking, it is scientific validation of a worldview: proof that cooking is literally what makes us human. For the rest of us, it means we have a clever retort the next time one of those annoying raw-food faddists starts going on about how natural it is never to eat anything heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
There’s one problem with Wrangham’s elegant hypothesis: It’s hardly the scientific consensus. In fact, since 2009, when Wrangham explained his theory in the book Catching Fire, several archaeologists have come forward with their own, wildly divergent opinions about what is arguably the oldest intellectual property debate in the world. Who really mastered fire, in the sense of being able to create it, control it, and cook with it regularly? Was it Homo erectus, Neanderthals, or modern humans? Read more.
Researchers from Israel say that mysterious clay and stone artefacts from Neolithic times could be the earliest known “matches”.
Although the cylindrical objects have been known about for some time, they had previously been interpreted as “cultic” phallic symbols.
The researchers’ new interpretation means these could be the earliest evidence of how fires were ignited.
The research was published in the open access journal Plos One.
The journal reports that the artefacts are almost 8,000 years old.
Although evidence of “pyrotechnology” in Eurasia is known from three quarters of a million years ago, this evidence usually takes the form of remnants of fire itself. Read more.
An international team led by the University of Toronto and Hebrew University has identified the earliest known evidence of the use of fire by human ancestors. Microscopic traces of wood ash, alongside animal bones and stone tools, were found in a layer dated to one million years ago at the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa.
“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 U of T anthropologist Michael Chazan, co-director of the project and director of U of T’s Archaeology Centre.
The research will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on April 2.
Wonderwerk is a massive cave located near the edge of the Kalahari where earlier excavations by Peter Beaumont of the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, South Africa, had uncovered an extensive record of human occupation. A research project, co-directed by U of T’s Chazan and Liora Kolska Horwitz of Hebrew University, has been doing detailed analysis of the material from Beaumont’s excavation along with renewed field work on the Wonderwerk site. Read more.
A closed meeting with the army engineering section and the Arab Contractor Company a delegation with the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) led by Mohamed Shiha head of the Projects Department is to be held tomorrow to discuss all possible procedures to restore Egypt Scientific Institute (ESI). Report submitted by the MSA inspection mission would be also discussed in order to draw a restoration plan.
MSA’s minister Mohamed Ibrahim said that, according to official reports, the two-storey institute had been partially damaged by fire that had led to the collapse of its first- and second-floor ceilings, as well as the destruction of its wooden windows and arcades.
Mohsen Sayed head of the Islamic and Coptic Antiquities Department at the MSA told Ahram Online that all of the building’s internal walls had been destroyed but stressed that its supporting walls were still well preserved. Read more.
Pharaonic faces stare out from charred pages in Cairo’s Egyptian Scientific Complex on Monday. The documents are among thousands of precious historic works damaged or destroyed by a fire that consumed the structure over the weekend.
An Egyptian man removes burning books from the Institut d’Égypte in central Cairo on Monday after the famous museum and library caught fire.
A protester stands in front of the burning Institut d’Égypte in Cairo on Saturday, December 17.
An Egyptian book restorer lays out burned and damaged books to dry in the garden of the Institut d’Égypte on Monday after a fire over the weekend nearly gutted the building and destroyed much of its contents. More.
SAGINAW — An archeologist says a team excavating a 19th-century Saginaw house on the city’s East side is inching closer to what once was the home’s basement floor.
Jeff Sommer, curator of archaeology at the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History, is leading the dig at a plot of land on South Jefferson and Holden that Sommer hopes paints a better portrait of the average Saginaw family, circa 1893.
Sommer said recently a man claiming he was a descendant of the family — the McMasters — that lived at the home when it burned to the ground during Saginaw’s Great Fire of 1893 stopped by the dig after seeing it publicized in the newspaper.
“We’re hoping he might be able to get some family pictures for us,” said Sommer, who hopes to open an exhibit about the home at the Castle Museum. “It was cool to have a descendant stop by.” Read more.
A wildfire that forced federal employees to flee the desert birthplace of the atomic bomb neared the sacred sites of several American Indian tribes on Saturday, raising fears that tribal lands passed down for generations would be destroyed.
More than 1,600 firefighters were working to stop the 177-square-mile fire in northern New Mexico as it burned through a canyon on the Santa Clara Pueblo reservation and threatened other pueblos on the Parajito Plateau.
The area, a stretch of mesas that run more than 15 miles west of Santa Fe, New Mexico, includes the town of Los Alamos and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nation’s premier nuclear weapons laboratory.
Residents have worried that the blaze would reach Cold War-era waste stored on lab property, releasing contaminants into the air. But tribes have turned their concerns to the cabins, pueblos and watersheds that are in the path of the largest wildfire ever in state history. Read more.