03 Apr 2012

Possible remnants of fires used to cook by humans 1 million years ago were found inside the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa.  (Credit: Greatstock Photographic Library-ALAMY)

Scientists have uncovered the remains of an ancient fire that is at least 1 million years old at the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa.  It is speculated that the fire was used for cooking.  This is according to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The investigation was led by Michael Chazan of the University of Toronto.  The team located burned bones and ash plant material that included grasses, leaves and twigs.  The bones were from animals ranging from small rodents to horselike mammals. 

If these humans were cooking or not, "The evidence that we have is compatible with low temperatures of cooking, but it’s a little bit too early to be sure," according to Francesco Berna, a research assistant professor of archaeology at Boston University.  Berna is also the lead author of the study in the findings that were published.

Further investigation is needed to determine if the humans ate the raw meat then threw the bones into the fire or if they cooked the meat in the fire itself.

The findings in this study support a 2011 study that was led by Harvard researchers that suggested that the human ancestor species Homo erectus, which walked upright and had a smaller brain than our species, may have cooked its food.  Because Homo erectus had smaller molars than its evolutionary predecessors could be a reason it had to adapt to cook food as early as 1.9 million years ago.

There was no evidence that the materials found were burned outside then brought into the cave or that a wildfire might have spread from the area surrounding the cave.

Previously, scientists had known from good evidence, that humans had a handle on fire at least 400,000 years ago according to Berna.

Researchers will excavate more to see whether they find any more clues about cooking along with taking another look at other sites in East Africa and Europe.

The Tech-Stew Take Home

This discovery is yet another one of the more recent ones that have shed light onto our past.  Recently, the discovery of the fossils in China were found and indicated a possible new species of hominid called the Red Deer Cave people.  (The Red Deer Cave people were thought to have existed between 11,500 and 14,500 years ago).  The China discovery is yet another example of new findings that add to our understanding of human evolution.  These new discoveries at the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa, if confirmed true, could change our thinking of how early human societies evolved and functioned.  Ultimately this knowledge helps us humans get a better grasp on where we came from and how we developed into the society we are today.

Source:  globalpost.com, wikipedia


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