A new research sheds light on an Israeli cave that has given few hints about when humans mastered fire.
The study suggests that our ancestors began regularly using fire about 350,000 years ago which is far enough back to have shaped our culture and behavior but too recent to explain our big brains or our expansion into cold climates.
Ron Shimelmitz, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa and a co-author on the new study, said that Tabun Cave was unique in that it was a site with a very long sequence and they could examine step by step how the use of fire changed in the cave.
The researchers examined artifacts previously excavated from the site, which are mostly flint tools for cutting and scraping, and flint debris created in their manufacture and to determine when fire became a routine part of the lives of the cave dwellers, the team looked at flints from about 100 layers of sediments in the lowermost 16 meters of the cave deposits.
The scientists argue that the jump in the frequency of burnt flints represents the time when ancestral humans learned to control fire, either by kindling it or by keeping it burning between natural wildfires.
A few researchers have argued that ancestral humans did not regularly control fire until more recently.
Richard Wrangham of Harvard University asserted that he was not convinced by the sequence at this single site. The earliest inhabitants may have used the cave in different ways, such as to gather materials or butcher animals, saving their cooking for open-air sites, he says.