The Qesem cave has been a hot topic since it was discovered in 2000. Archeologists have recently discovered exactly what the cave was used for and when. They believe it to be home to the oldest known hearth in existence, dating back 300,000 years.
The cave is in Israel, just east of Tel Aviv. It is situated between the Samarian Hills and the coastal plain. Qesem dates back to the lower Paleolithic. Though it was discovered nearly 15 years ago, archeologists have revealed new data that sheds light on the behavior of those who inhabited the cave.
The details of the latest findings about the Qesem cave were published in the January issue of the Journal of Archeological Science. As the team studied the cave, they found a few points of interest. Most importantly, they discovered the oldest known hearth within the cave. The ability to make fire within the cave made it an ideal home to many.
After years of excavating Qesem, archeologists now know that the ancient limestone cave was home to many generations of families. The 300,000 year-old hearth shows layer after layer of ash, suggesting it has had repeated use.
While the first fire was made over a million years ago, the remains of this particular hearth show how controlled the fire was and how the families organized their lives around it. The cave is two-story. The lower level is 10 feet high and the upper level is 15 feet high. The space appears to be compartmentalized, much like that of a modern home.
Even in the early days of family-style living, the fire pit was used as a place for social gatherings. Flint tools were found in the area surrounding the hearth, showing how they cut their meet before cooking it over the fire. Different types of tools were located near the cave, which were likely used for killing game.
In a press release, Dr. Ruth Shahack-Gross of the Kimmel Center for Archeological Science at the Weizmann Institute said, “They also tell us something about the impressive levels of social and cognitive development of humans living some 300,000 years ago.”
Furthermore, thin slices of the cave were examined under a microscope. Scientists found small pieces of bone and soil along with the ash from the fire. Bones from deer, pigs, horses, goats and tortoises were found in the ash from Qesem cave. Their habits and the placement of smaller tools indicates that they saved larger portions of food to share with the group.
Though they were closer to Homo sapiens than Neanderthals, scientists are still studying the behavior and intellect of the group that once occupied the Qesem cave.
The cave was ideal for families to settle in for days to weeks at a time, especially since it contained the oldest known hearth built for fires. It was big enough to house 15-20 people at a time. Scientists suspect that extended families shared the cave for a while, moved on and returned again at a later date. Qesem cave was an ideal home because it was close to a fresh water supply, had plenty of game for hunting and it provided a comfortable shelter for hunter-gatherers.
By Tracy Rose