Readers!
 

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


 

Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:
 


 

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


 

If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
 

Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


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.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

2 comments

  • PZatchok

    Ok I’ll be the first to say it.

    Global warming.

    Without looking into myself I wonder if they started making the majority of their moves across Europe during a warming period?

  • Tom Billings

    “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.”

    The pattern may indicate something different than a *first* use of fire. 350,000 years ago was in the first half a glacial period, if I am reading the temperature graph correctly:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5f/All_palaeotemps.svg

    These indicate an interglacial at 400,000 years ago. If people moved into Israel and on to Northern Europe at that time, then they may well have begun using fire *outside*. However, the article seems to imply that finding these patterns on flints outside a cave is not deemed conclusive, because forest fires may have caused the effects on the flints.

    Once the cold returns “hard enough”, however, it could have easily become worthwhile to sit next to a fire in a smoky cave, rather than out in the blizzard, where the wind negates so much of the warming of the fire. This pattern could allow within its parameters both the first appearance of fire inside the cave at 350,000 years, and the earlier movement of people North, through Israel into Europe.

Readers: the rules for commenting!

 

No registration is required. I welcome all opinions, even those that strongly criticize my commentary.

 

However, name-calling and obscenities will not be tolerated. First time offenders who are new to the site will be warned. Second time offenders or first time offenders who have been here awhile will be suspended for a week. After that, I will ban you. Period.

 

Note also that first time commenters as well as any comment with more than one link will be placed in moderation for my approval. Be patient, I will get to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *