This Tuesday, a group of international archaeologists discovered the traces of what looks like the oldest controlled fire made by humans. The remains and some microscopic residues of ash and burnt bones were found in the South African cave of Wonderwerk.
It is proved the fire was controlled and probably caused by the Homo erectus, the most possible candidate as the times match, as the fireplace was found 30 metres inside the cave, which practically discards the fact the fire was caused by wildfires.
However, the traces given are not conclusive when saying the hominids at that time ‘started’ the fire themselves. As Michael Chazan, from University of Toronto in Canada, says, it is also possible that the Homo erectus carried the fire from outside the cave and brought inside, which rules out the theory that says that they made the fire.
This discovery is not only important because it is the oldest proved hearth in history, having 1 million years, but because it will also be very useful for anthropologists to show how at this time, hominids developed a taste for food. This finding will reactivate the debate that cooking changed forever the human anatomy.
As Richard Wrangham says, at Harvard University, this finding is an exciting breakthrough, which makes many scientists think that other areas from South Africa with 1 million years old should be re-examinated.
Wrangham gives lots of importance to this discovery as it could be a conclusive prove that around that time humans started cooking food.
Despite this, Chazan also argues that the tiny trace of fire really contrast the great amount of ashes found in other fires of more recent sites. This, says Chazan, indicates that the Homo Erectus didn’t use the fire frequently or cooked regularly.
This is not the first finding of extremely old hearths. The oldest hearth found (before the South African was discovered) was found a few years ago, the residues of ashes, stones and bones were found in an Israeli land, and dated from only 790,000 years ago.
However, many scientists state that humans were able to cook and control fire much earlier, since 1.9 million years ago, although there are no scientific proves.
It is clear that this mystery will be difficult to solve, but, as Wrangham says, the problem is so fascinating.