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Fire Tamed for Daily Use as Many as 300,000 Years Ago

Jan 27, 2014 03:45 PM EST

Fire was tamed as many as 300,000 years ago, according to the recent discovery of the earliest evidence of repeated fire burning in one place over a period of time.

Although most estimates place the discovery of fire over 1 million years ago, exactly when our ancestors began harnessing it for their daily needs is still very much under debate.

Digging in a cave located in modern-day Israel, archaeologists uncovered a pile of wood ash in its center. Infrared spectroscopy revealed it to contain bits of bone and soil that had been heated at some point to high temperatures. What's more, by putting bits of the ash under a microscope, the scientists were able to identify a large number of micro-strata, suggesting the hearth was used multiple times over a period of time.

Flint tools designed for the cutting of meat lay around and in the hearth area, as were burnt animal bones, which, the scientists said, offered further proof that the area was used for the repeated cooking of meat.

Such organization of the cave into different activities suggest it served as a base to which its inhabitants likely returned to time and again, they explained.

"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 - a sort of campfire - for social gatherings," Ruth Shahack-Gross of the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science at the Weizmann Institute said in a statement.

"They also tell us something about the impressive levels of social and cognitive development of humans living some 300,000 years ago," she added.

The study was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

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