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Spanish cave offers earliest evidence of fire-making in Europe


Remnants of burnt rock and charred bone discovered in a cave in south east Spain could be the earliest evidence of fire making in Europe.

Spanish cave offers earliest evidence of fire-making in Europe
Remnants of burnt rock and charred bone discovered in a cave in south east Spain could be the earliest evidence of fire 
making in Europe. The artefacts, which are believed to date back more than 800,000 years, were discovered by 
archaeologists at Cueva Negra, west of Murcia in Spain [Credit: Michael Walker]
The artefacts, which are believed to date back more than 800,000 years, were discovered by archaeologists at Cueva Negra, 80 kilometres west of Murcia.

Researchers say the remains are evidence that human ancestors may have regularly used controlled fires for cooking as far back as one million years ago.

The team, led by Dr Michael Walker of the Murcia University, uncovered the scraps of bone and rock in a deep layer of sediment in the isolated cave.

Analysis indicates the fragments were heated to between 400˚C to 600˚C (752–1,112˚F), which the team says is a clear sign they were burnt by fire. The ‘Black Cave’ is a rocky shelter located 780 metres above sea level under a cliff.

Spanish cave offers earliest evidence of fire-making in Europe
Digs at the site have unearthed a range of charred and calcined bone fragments from the layers of sediment 
[Credit: Michael Walker]
Excavations carried out at the site since 2011 have revealed tooth and bone fragments, dating its use to around 650,000 years ago during the Pleistocene period.

Previous digs have unearthed remnants of Stone Age tools by hunter gatherers in the area and traces of Neanderthal bones and teeth, indicating that human ancestors used the cave hundreds of thousands of years ago.

The team was able to estimate a date for the charred remains based on the surrounding layers of rock, which show evidence of a reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field some 780,000 years ago.

But doubts have been raised about the age of artefacts uncovered at the Black Cave, citing the difficulty in discerning identifiable layers and the original position of fragments and artefacts.

Spanish cave offers earliest evidence of fire-making in Europe
Excavating sediment with combustion in 2015 
[Credit: Michael Walker]
While anthropologists have argued about the date for discovery of fire – with some estimates saying it may be two million years ago – the most solid evidence emerged in 2012 from sites in South Africa, with charred bones dating back to one million years ago.

The Cueva Negra evidence would support theories that fire-making was discovered first in Africa, before being taken to the Middle East and Europe.

Writing in the journal Antiquity, the group explained: 'The results provide new insight into Early Palaeolithic use of fire and its significance for human evolution.'

Scientists have proposed that the discovery of fire, and more specifically cooking, was one of the main driving events in human evolution and led to the physical changes which gave rise to modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens.

Spanish cave offers earliest evidence of fire-making in Europe
The 'Black Cave' is located at the bottom of a cliff, hundreds of metres above sea level 
[Credit: Michael Walker]
In one theory, British primatologist Richard Wrangham proposed that this early mastery of fire set early Homo on the path to modern humans - with their guts shrinking over time as cooked food was easier to digest, rerouteing energy which could be used for their expanding brains.

Dr Michael Walker, an Emeritus professor at Murcia, who led the research, told MailOnline: 'Of enormous significance here, from the standpoint of human evolution, is that it implies early humans a million years ago had lost the fear of fire that causes other animals to flea before it.

'It implies an evolution of human cognitive awareness far beyond that of the great apes of the African jungles, or even the two-legged Australopithecine hominids of between four and two million years ago in Africa.'

He added that while some authorities have claimed there is evidence of fire at open air African Stone Age sites as far back as 1.6 million years ago, it is more likely that these were caused by lightning strikes or volcanic activity.

Author: Ryan O'Hare | Source: Daily Mail [June 07, 2016]
TANN

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