Fire out of Africa: A key to the migration of prehistoric man

Oct 27, 2008
Excavations at the Gesher Benot Ya’qov site. Credit: Professor Naama Goren-Inbar

The ability to make fire millennia ago was likely a key factor in the migration of prehistoric hominids from Africa into Eurasia, a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology believes on the basis of findings at the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov archaeological site in Israel.

Earlier excavations there, carried out under the direction of Prof. Naama Goren-Inbar of the Institute of Archaeology, showed that the occupants of the site – who are identified as being part of the Acheulian culture that arose in Africa about 1.6 million years ago -- had mastered fire-making ability as long as 790,000 years ago. This revelation pushed back previously accepted dates for man's fire-making ability by a half-million years.

The Gesher Benot Ya'aqov site is located along the Dead Sea rift in the Hula Valley of northern Israel.

Dr. Nira Alperson-Afil, a member of Goren-Inbar's team, said that further, detailed investigation of burned flint at designated areas in all eight levels of civilization found at the site now shows that "concentrations of burned flint items were found in distinct areas, interpreted as representing the remnants of ancient hearths." This tells us, she said, that once acquired, this fire-making ability was carried on over a period of many generations. Alperson-Afil's findings are reported in an article published in the most recent edition of Quaternary Science Reviews.

She said that other studies which have reported on the use of fire only verified the presence of burned archaeological materials, but were unable to penetrate further into the question of whether humans were "fire-makers" from the very early stages of fire-use.

"The new data from Gesher Benot Ya'akov is exceptional as it preserved evidence for fire-use throughout a very long occupational sequence. This continual, habitual, use of fire suggests that these early humans were not compelled to collect that fire from natural conflagrations, rather they were able to make fire at will," Alperson-Afil said.

The manipulation of fire by early man was clearly a turning point for man's ancestors, Once "domesticated," fire enabled protection from predators and provided warmth and light as well as enabling the exploitation of a new range of foods.

Said Alperson-Afil: "The powerful tool of fire-making provided ancient humans with confidence, enabling them to leave their early circumscribed surroundings and eventually populate new, unfamiliar environments."

Source: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Explore further: Student archeologists report from field, add to knowledge of ancient Greece

Related Stories

Optimizing shale gas production from well to wire

Jun 25, 2015

"Hydraulic fracturing" (or fracking) and "environmentally friendly" often do not appear in the same sentence together. But as the United States teeters on the precipice of a shale gas boom, Northwestern University professor ...

The race for better batteries

Jun 15, 2015

"The worldwide transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy is under way…" according to the Earth Policy Institute's new book, The Great Transition.

Amazon's music service plays to a different beat

Jun 04, 2015

A few dozen people crowded into a meeting room at Amazon.com's Seattle headquarters last month for one of the nice perks of working at the giant online retailer: a free concert.

AOL signs off after 30-year connection

May 12, 2015

Over its 30-year history, the company got America on the Internet, became a corporate power, lost its luster and reinvented itself several times in an effort to stay relevant.

Recommended for you

Old World monkey had tiny, complex brain

Jul 03, 2015

The brain hidden inside the oldest known Old World monkey skull has been visualized for the first time. The creature's tiny but remarkably wrinkled brain supports the idea that brain complexity can evolve ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.