Researchers from the University of Toronto, University of Boston and the Hebrew University have discovered the earliest known evidence of the use of fire by human ancestors. They have got microscopic traces of wood ash, alongside animal bones and stone tools that were found in a layer dating to one million years ago at the Wonderwerk in South Africa.
"The control of fire would have been a major turning point in human evolution," said Michael Chazan, anthropologist at the University of Toronto. "The impact of cooking food is well documented, but the impact of control over fire would have touched all elements of human society," he said.
Researchers analysed sediments of ashes, plant remains and burned bone fragments and found the ashes dating back 300,000 years, suggesting that human ancestors as early as Homo Erectus may have begun using fire as part of their way of life.
Wonderwerk is a massive cave located near the edge of the Kalahari in South Africa. The ash that was discovered was relatively deep in the cave, more than 30 yards from the entrance, out of reach of wildfires as well as rain and wind. The ash was also found at an earlier surface level of the cave, some five feet below the current surface.
According to researchers, this indeed is an important discovery because it gives us more insight about our ancestor and how they lived. Knowing that when man first made fire has huge implications for understanding how our species evolved. Once early man had flames at his command, he not only had a source of heat, but also a means to cook food. By unlocking nutrients in food, cooking made for a much better diet that not only boosted overall health, but may have also contributed to other modern human traits, such as increased brain size and pair bonding.
"The analysis pushes the timing for the human use of fire back by 300,000 years, suggesting that human ancestors as early as Homo Erectus may have begun using fire as part of their way of life," said Chazan.
Now archaeologists are researching what they believe could be an even earlier fire in Wonderwerk, dating back 1.7 million years.