The First Art Newspaper on the Net   Established in 1996 United States Friday, October 20, 2017

Evidence inside Wonderwerk cave in South Africa proves our ancestors used fire a million years ago
The inside of Wonderwerk cave in South Africa. Scientists said Monday, April 2, 2012 that they've found the earliest firm evidence of human ancestors using fire: material about 1 million years old in in Wonderwerk cave. Burned bones and microscopic ash in the dirt suggests fire frequently burned there, apparently under the control of our ancestor Homo erectus, researchers said. AP Photo/courtesy of Michael Chazen.

By: Malcolm Ritter, AP Science Writer

NEW YORK (AP).- When did our ancestors first use fire? That's been a long-running debate, and now a new study concludes the earliest firm evidence comes from about 1 million years ago in a South African cave.

The ash and burnt bone samples found there suggest fires frequently burned in that spot, researchers said Monday.

Over the years, some experts have cited evidence of fire from as long as 1.5 million years ago, and some have argued it was used even earlier, a key step toward evolution of a larger brain. It's a tricky issue. Even if you find evidence of an ancient blaze, how do you know it wasn't just a wildfire?

The new research makes "a pretty strong case" for the site in South Africa's Wonderwerk Cave, said Francesco Berna of Boston University, who presents the work with colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

One expert said the new finding should be considered together with a previous discovery nearby, of about the same age. Burnt bones also have been found in the Swartkrans cave, not far from the new site, and the combination makes a stronger case than either one alone, said Anne Skinner of Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., who was not involved in the new study.

Another expert unconnected with the work, Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University in The Netherlands, said by email that while the new research does not provide "rock solid" evidence, it suggests our ancestors probably did use fire there at that time.

The ancestors probably brought burning material from natural blazes into the cave to establish the fires, said Michael Chazan of the University of Toronto, a study author. Stone tools at the site suggest the ancestors were Homo erectus, a species known from as early as about 2 million years ago.

The scientists didn't find signs of fire preparation, like a hearth or a deep pit. But Berna said it's unlikely the fires were simply natural blazes, such as from lightning strikes.

That's because the evidence shows repeated fires burned deep inside the cave, he said. The cave entrance is almost 100 feet away, and because of changes in the cave over the past 1 million years, the entrance was apparently even farther away when the fires burned, he said. In contrast, he said, the bones at Swartkrans could have been burned by a natural fire in the open before winding up in that cave.

The scientists also found no sign that the Wonderwerk cave fires were ignited by spontaneous combustion of bat guano, which they called a rare but documented event.

Berna and colleagues describe animal bones that show discoloring and a chemical signature of being heated. They also report microscopic bits of ash in excavated dirt from the cave, indicating burning of light material like leaves, grasses and twigs. And they found evidence of heating in samples of fractured stone.

Several lines of evidence suggest the material was heated within the cave rather than blown or washed in from outside.

It's not clear what the fires were used for. While the burnt bones suggest cooking, the ancestors might have eaten the meat raw and tossed the bones into the fire, Berna noted. Other possible uses might be warmth, light and protection from wild animals, he said.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Roebroeks and Paola Villa of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the University of Colorado Museum in Boulder, said that while the new study probably demonstrates use of fire, they'd like to see signs of preparations like a hearth to be sure.

In any case, they said, the work does not show that human ancestors were using fire regularly throughout their range that long ago. In a paper published last year, they traced such habitual use of fire to about 400,000 years ago.

Berna said researchers will return to the Wonderwerk cave this summer and pursue hints that fires were used there even earlier than their paper suggests.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Today's News

April 3, 2012

Skulls, sharks and polka dots in new Damien Hirst show at Tate Modern in London

Evidence inside Wonderwerk cave in South Africa proves our ancestors used fire a million years ago

Photographer Herb Ritt's extensive career examined in Getty Museum exhibition

Asheville Art Museum presents The Essential Idea: Robert Motherwell's Graphic Works

Wish You Were Here: The Buffalo Avant-garde in the 1970s opens at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Sotheby's Orientalist Sale to present important works depicting Turkey, The Middle East and North Africa

A new museum and a new design for a historic interior: Musée Toulouse-Lautrec opens

Rare and antique arms & armor on the auction block at Bonhams in San Francisco this June

Sotheby's exhibits highlights from its forthcoming sale of Contemporary Turkish art in Istanbul

One World Trade Center reaches a milestone: 100 floors; expected to be finished by next year

Bertoia's May 12 auction features Dick Claus Nautical Toy & Boat collection, Part I

The Collectors House features works from Mircea Pinte Collection and from the Dutch G+W Collection

Strong sales and attendance at Japanese art exhibitions and events during Asia Week 2012

New mobile platform for smart investments in emerging Contemporary art

Sotheby's Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Paintings sale achieves US$12.3 million

Exhibition maps the continued influence and diverse potential of TV as a social tool and new art form

Fourth Master Paintings Week announced

Delaware Art Museum presents "Painted Poetry: The Art of Mary Page Evans"

'Monumental' G.J. Dennis Elizabeth II caviar server expected to bring $70,000+ at Heritage Auctions

Menu from Titanic's last lunch sells at UK auction

Most Popular Last Seven Days

1.- $37.7 million bowl sets Chinese ceramic auction record at Sotheby's Hong Kong

2.- Major new show at Picasso Museum focuses on pivotal year in Picasso's life and work

3.- 63 Dutch Masters return home to Holland for an exhibition at the Hermitage Amsterdam

4.- Exhibition reveals new insights into Renoir's celebrated "Luncheon of the Boating Party"

5.- Nazi-looted Pissarro painting at centre of legal tussle

6.- The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art presents 'Lines of Inquiry: Learning from Rembrandt's Etchings'

7.- Pristine Hermès Himalayan Gris Cendre Birkin bag sells for $112,500 at Heritage Auctions

8.- Tom Petty, heartland rocker with dark streak, dead at 66

9.- Exhibition presenting the art of Marcel Duchamp and Salvador Dalí opens in London

10.- Private collectors using online appraisal platform to get multiple estimates from top auction houses

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
Editor & Publisher:Jose Villarreal - Consultant: Ignacio Villarreal Jr.
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. The most varied versions
of this beautiful prayer.
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful