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300,000-year-old hearth: Early evidence of repeated fire found, major discovery

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A 300,000-year-old hearth was recently unearthed by an expert team of scientists from Israel. The major discovery marks one of the earliest forms of evidence suggesting a repeated fire being built for a considerable amount of time in Qesem Cave. The Science Recorder reveals this Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, that the news release was provided this week from the Weizmann Institute of Science, and that such a landmark find points to the notion that prehistoric humans that employed the hearth may have had a more complex social structure and intellectual ability than first realized.

The 300,000-year-old hearth was discussed by a number of officials headed by Professors Ran Barkai and Avi Gopher of Tel Aviv University. These archaeologists helped organize the excavations conducted at the Qesem Cave prior to this impressive find. Another professor that worked with excavation sample and analysis, Dr. Ruth Shahack-Gross, was first able to correctly recognize a large remainder of what appeared to be wood ash in the middle of the cave. With the focus that infrared spectroscopy provides, both she and others in the expert team were able to verify that both bone and soil residue were mixed with the ash that had been heated to very high temperatures hundreds of thousands of years ago.

It was this very evidence that the archaeological team used to prove that this particular area in the Qesem Cave had once been the location of a massive hearth for likely a considerable number of prehistoric humans.

According to the press release on this 300,000-year-old hearth discovery:

“After completing the infrared spectroscopy analysis, Shahack-Gross tested the micro-morphology of the ash. She accomplished this by extracting a cubic mass of sediment from the hearth and hardened it in the lab. By analyzing the slices of sediment under a microscope, Shahack-Gross found the proof she needed to draw a conclusion about the existence of a hearth within the cave.”

It was the particular items located near the hearth that especially aroused the curiosity of the researchers. The archaeological team confirmed that they found a vast number of rudimentary tools and flint devices that appeared to be used for preparing and dressing meat. A number of other tools were found near the remnants of the ancient hearth that offered heat and life to these ancestors. Finally, a considerable collection of animal bones stored in a corner also seemed to serve as evidence that fires were used in this area for cooking a hefty amount of meat.

“These findings help us to fix an important turning point in the development of human culture – that in which humans first began to regularly use fire both for cooking meat and as a focal point – a sort of campfire – for social gatherings,” said Shahack-Gross. “They also tell us something about the impressive levels of social and cognitive development of humans living some 300,000 years ago.”

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