Qesem Cave Reveals Early Humans Use of Controlled Fire 300,000 Years Ago

Qesem Cave

Qesem Cave in Israel reveals prehistoric humans utilized controlled fires as early as 300,000 years ago for cooking and heating purposes. The findings of Israeli archeologists at this paleolithic site just outside Rosh Ha’ayin near Tel Aviv show the earliest evidence that humans were already using controlled fires as part of their culture. This latest finding was published in the January 2014 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The finding also debunks the previous belief that early humans are undeveloped and crude.  Rather “These prehistoric humans already had a highly advanced social structure and intellectual capacity,” the Weitzmann Institute of Science said in a press release.

Professor Ruth Shahack-Gross is the team leader of the group from the Weitzmann Institute who has been studying the site since 2000. This team of scientists and researchers discovered a large deposit of wood ash mixed with bits of burnt soil and bone indicating that these materials were repeatedly heated to high temperatures. This specific area is located at the center of the Qesem Cave marking it as the site of a large hearth where people gathered. This fire pit measures 6.5 feet in diameter at its largest point.

The researchers also found that around the hearth area were a large quantity of flint tools which were used by the early humans for cutting meat as well as other tools of varying shapes used for other purposes and activities. The burnt animal bones indicate that animals were cooked using the fire, barbecue style.

The physical appearance of the Qesem Cave also points to knowledge of space or area organization. The inside of the cave seems to be divided into various organizational areas much like what can be seen in an ordinary household. The creation of this social order is a characteristic of modern humans yet was already being practiced 300,000 years ago.

Professor Shahack-Gross and her colleagues used infrared spectroscopy to analyze the thick deposit of wood ash found in the center of the cave. They then tested the micro-morphology of the ash sample by extracting a chunk of the sediment taken from the hearth and hardening it in the lab. Finally, thin slices of this hardened material were placed under the microscope to determine its exact composition and how it was formed.

The tools and the remnants of an ancient hearth at the center of the cave is an indication that the place was used by the early humans as a sort of a base camp. Professor Shahack-Gross said ”These findings help us to fix an important turning point in the development of human culture – that in which humans first began to regularly use fire both for cooking meat and as a focal point for social gatherings.”

The use of fire was utilized by the early humans from a much earlier date, yet what the Qesem Cave confirmed was the use of controlled fire for heating and cooking purposes. Researches have shown that modern homo sapiens evolved in Africa in about 200,000 years ago, thus the Qesem Cave inhabitants belonged to an earlier human species.

The discovery that Qesem Cave in Israel was a sort of base camp for early human beings as well as a mirror of the quality of life they once had,  demonstrates that they were also capable of long-term planning, as in gathering firewood in order to keep the fire burning and the value of working together as a single unit to achieve a common purpose.

By Roberto I. Belda


The Times of Israel
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