Tag Archives: Tabun Cave

When did humans begin using fire?

A cave in Israel suggests that the human use of fire began around 350,000 years ago.

The researchers examined artifacts previously excavated from the site, which are mostly flint tools for cutting and scraping, and flint debris created in their manufacture. To determine when fire became a routine part of the lives of the cave dwellers, the team looked at flints from about 100 layers of sediments in the lowermost 16 meters of the cave deposits.

In layers older than roughly 350,000 years, almost none of the flints are burned. But in every layer after that, many flints show signs of exposure to fire: red or black coloration, cracking, and small round depressions where fragments known as pot lids flaked off from the stone. Wildfires are rare in caves, so the fires that burned the Tabun flints were probably controlled by ancestral humans, according to the authors. The scientists argue that the jump in the frequency of burnt flints represents the time when ancestral humans learned to control fire, either by kindling it or by keeping it burning between natural wildfires.

There are enormous uncertainties here, but the data also appears to match with what has been found in Europe. The problem however is that this date is long after humans had already migrated to colder climates, which means that they were somehow surviving for a long time in these hostile environments without fire, something that is puzzling.