A team of Israeli scientists have discovered a large hearth in the Qesem Cave – an archaeological site near Rosh HaAyin, a city in Israel – that humans built nearly 300,000 years ago.
During excavation at the site, Ruth Shahack-Gross of the Weizmann Institute in Israel identified a thick deposit of wood ash in the centre of the cave.
Using infrared spectroscopy, she and her colleagues found bits of bone and soil mixed in ash that had been heated to very high temperatures.
“This was conclusive proof that the area had been the site of a large hearth,” said Shahack-Gross.
The researchers extracted a chunk of sediment from the hearth and hardened it in the lab.
They sliced it into extremely thin slices to be placed under a microscope to observe the exact composition of the materials in the deposit and reveal how they were formed.
“We were able to distinguish a great many micro-strata in the ash – evidence for a hearth that was used repeatedly over time,” said Avi Gopher of Tel Aviv University.
In and around the area were large numbers of burnt animal bones – further evidence for repeated fire use for cooking meat, said the study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
“These findings tell us that humans first began to regularly use fire both for cooking meat and social gatherings,” added Shahack-Gross.
According to previous studies, humans discovered fire over a million years ago.
The new findings hint that those prehistoric humans already had a highly advanced social structure and intellectual capacity, the study said.