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Traces of million years old 'fires' discovered in South African Cave

Researchers from Canada have been studying the Wonderwerk Cave between Kuruman and Danielskuil in the Northern Cape.

Traces of million years old 'fires' discovered in South African Cave
At Wonderwerk Cave, researchers have found evidence of human-controlled fires
 in million-year-old layers of earth [Credit: Michael Chazan]
The scientists have made interesting discoveries - which include traces of fire residue that dates back to more than a million years ago. The research team, which has set-up a laboratory in the caves, has already published a number of articles in relation to their findings.

Between Kuruman and Danielskuil, in the Northern Cape, lies a massive stone outcropping which marks the entrance to one of humanity's oldest known dwelling places - the Wonderwerk Cave.

The cave is a mecca for archaeologists in their investigation into early human history.

Professor Michael Chazan, an archaeologist at the caves, says since their arrival in 2004, they have made interesting discoveries such as stone tools, fire residue and bones which date back to more than a million years ago.

Traces of million years old 'fires' discovered in South African Cave
A microscope image of sediment shows burned bone. Analysis revealed that the bone was burned 
at campfire temperatures, and not by wildfires or lightning [Credit: Paul Goldberg]
"This makes us wonder when they stopped being afraid of fire when they started cooking with fire. Now, we're trying to explore so that we can understand not only when fire was first used but also how fire was first used."

Scholars have argued that there isn't enough evidence to suggest that pre-historic humans cooked with fire, but instead ate raw meat.

However, Dr Francesco Berna, who made the fire residue discovery, says the findings are a new stride in the theory of human evolution.

"The fact that we find a fire in these caves that's dated about 1.5 million years ago, it's a pretty big find because that is possibly the earliest secure evidence of having fire associated with human activity in an archaeological site."

Articles on the discoveries made at the Wonderwerk Cave have since been published and Head archaeologist at the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, David Morris, says these findings have opened the possibilities of more research into early human history.

"Most recently there has been a whole batch of publications an entire issue and a half of the african archaeological review has been devoted to this site."

Source: SABC [June 11, 2017]

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