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Big Bad Voodoo

Who mastered fire?

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According to Sandgathe and his colleagues, hominids didn’t really master fire until around 12,000 years ago—well after Neanderthals had disappeared from the face of the planet (or merged into the human gene pool via interbreeding, depending on your view). Sandgathe and his colleagues excavated two Neanderthal cave sites in France and found, surprisingly, that the sites’ inhabitants used hearths more during warm periods and less during cold periods. Why on earth would Neanderthals not build fires when it was freezing outside? In “On the Role of Fire in Neandertal Adaptations in Western Europe: Evidence from Pech de l’Azé IV and Roc de Marsal, France,” Sandgathe advances the hypothesis that European Neanderthals simply didn’t know how to make fire. All they could do was harvest natural fires—those caused by lightning, for instance—to occasionally warm their bodies and cook their food. (This explains why Sandgathe found more evidence of fire from warm periods: Lightning is far less common during cold spells.)

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_evolution/2012/10/who_invented_fire_when_did_people_start_cooking_.2.html

Wrangham, meanwhile, thinks both Sandgathe et al. and Roebroeks et al. ignore some critical nonarchaeological evidence: his point that contemporary humans can’t survive on a diet of uncooked food. Accepting Sandgathe’s hypothesis, Wrangham wrote in an email, “means that the contemporary evidence is wrong, or that humans have adapted to need cooked food only in the last 12,000 years. Both suggestions are very challenging!”

Why on earth can’t scientists agree on whether people mastered fire 1.8 million years ago or 12,000 years ago?

Well, figuring out who burned what, when, is not an easy business. For one thing, archaeologists can’t always tell what caused a fire: a volcano, for instance, a lightning strike, or hominid ingenuity...it’s almost impossible to tell whether it was created by people from scratch or merely stolen from a natural fire and then transported to a hearth, where it was kept alive as long as possible. Scientists call this kind of fire use opportunistic.

As Sandgathe et al. write in their discussion of the available evidence, “There are … examples where residues originally interpreted as the remains of fires are later identified as something else.” (I hate it when that happens.) At one site in China, for instance, layers of earth originally believed to be ashes were later revealed to be silt and unburned bits of organic matter.

Wrangham is also hopeful that other disciplines will provide evidence for his theory. “I suspect genetics will help,” he says. “If we can pin down the genes underlying the adaptation to cooked food, we may be able to date the control of fire close enough to settle the big question.”

“Sure, that would be pretty compelling evidence,” admits Sandgathe. But he’s hopeful that genetics will bolster his hypothesis: that Neanderthals survived frigid glacial periods not because they regularly used fire, but because they had thick body hair. “At some point someone may announce the discovery of the gene or genes that code for thickness of body hair, and so could answer that question,” he says.

Judging from the way things are going, this debate may rage on for a good while longer.

It’s possible that different groups mastered fire independently of one another at different points in time.

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According to Newman and Lambert (1963) Who DID teach people to master fire.

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http://www.lastwordonnothing.com/2012/09/18/let-sleeping-neanderthals-lie/

"As it turns out, our Neanderthal kin were also very fond of watching a flickering fire as they drifted off to sleep.

New research by Dan Cabanes, an archaeobotanist at Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and his colleagues has just revealed the microscopic remains of grass beds made by Neanderthals in a cave in Spain. Dated between 53,000 and 39,000 years ago, these beds lay next to the burnt remains of once roaring fires."

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It would seem from this: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/howaboutthat/8985122/Amazing-photos-of-Kanzi-the-bonobo-lighting-a-fire-and-cooking-a-meal.html?image=4 That neanderthal would certainly be able to use fire. As for starting one with flint or friction, maybe not, but keeping a flame going perpetually isn't that big a problem.

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It would seem from this: http://www.telegraph...al.html?image=4 That neanderthal would certainly be able to use fire. As for starting one with flint or friction, maybe not, but keeping a flame going perpetually isn't that big a problem.

PersonFromPorlock, your link is really shocking! Thank you for it!

As for your comment, keeping a flame is simple task when you know what it is and how it works. If you don't know how to manage it, it's not that simple.

Even your bonobo learned it from a movie, he didn't come up alone.

The real great leap is from using fire to manage (and produce) it.

The L, great thread! I was going to quote a finding about fire used by Homo Erectus in China, but reading your post, it seems it ended up incorrect.

Anyway, I stick with those saying that Neanderthals managed fire.

A simple and stupid example: they lived in deep caves, where there's never light. Did they walk and lived there using super senses? They even probably produced wall art (it's not sure yet). How did they realize it, without seeing anything?

If you were in them, would you really go inside an unknown cave without knowing what can be there inside, without seeing possible dangers such as animals or simple holes? Would you take your family with you in such a place?

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PersonFromPorlock, your link is really shocking! Thank you for it!

As for your comment, keeping a flame is simple task when you know what it is and how it works. If you don't know how to manage it, it's not that simple.

Even your bonobo learned it from a movie, he didn't come up alone.

The real great leap is from using fire to manage (and produce) it.

The L, great thread! I was going to quote a finding about fire used by Homo Erectus in China, but reading your post, it seems it ended up incorrect.

Anyway, I stick with those saying that Neanderthals managed fire.

A simple and stupid example: they lived in deep caves, where there's never light. Did they walk and lived there using super senses? They even probably produced wall art (it's not sure yet). How did they realize it, without seeing anything?

If you were in them, would you really go inside an unknown cave without knowing what can be there inside, without seeing possible dangers such as animals or simple holes? Would you take your family with you in such a place?

You could train elephant to dance and paint and tigers to walk on rope and jump trough fire rings but in nature you will never see Van Gogh elephant.

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Err, are you disagreeing with me?

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Posted (edited)

I think clearly Neanderthal and Homo Erectus used fire. I can't know that they did MAKE fire, but clearly they used it.

The arguement is much like saying that until the saddle came along, that horses were not domesticated.

There are many ways to start fire that don't require stones/flints or metal.

Perhaps the decrease of various fire pit usages had to do with the harsh weather and the gathering of fire materials, rather then an inability to start a fire? Seems to me that if you lived thousands of feet into a cave, that might have the entrace snowed over every winter, that you'd make less fires, because getting more fuel would be hard. Thus you'd just make enough fire to survive, unlike in the summer, when fuel is easier to get, when you'd turn the caves "thermistat" up as high as you liked.

Edit: NOTE: One thing about living in a cave, thousands of feet from the entrace, is that the temperature is usually very stable year round. So the fact that it would be freezing outside is irrelivant to the neaderthal's comfort.

Edited by DieChecker

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It's not hard to believe that Neanderthals used fire, since Homo erectus apparently did c.1,000,000 BP:

Ash and charred bone, the earliest known evidence of controlled use of fire, reveal that human ancestors may have used fire a million years ago, a discovery that researchers say will shed light on this major turning point in human evolution.

Scientists analyzed material from Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa, a massive cavern located near the edge of the Kalahari Desert. Previous excavations there had uncovered an extensive record of human occupation.

Microscopic analysis revealed clear evidence of burning, such as plant ash and charred bone fragments. These materials were apparently burned in the cave, as opposed to being carried in there by wind or water, and were found alongside stone tools in a layer dating back about 1 million years. Surface fracturing of ironstone, the kind expected from fires, was also seen.

http://www.livescience.com/19425-earliest-human-fire.html

cormac

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In light of the lack of any sort of evidence we have and most observations only providing circumstantial evidence i am going to go with 'Prometheus'.Now the question that arises is that was 'Prometheus' a Neanderthal or Homo erectus or Homo sapien :yes:.

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wasn't Prometheus an alien?

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I think the use of fire may have cropped up in multiple hominid species, each utilizing it and discovering it on their own. At least, that's what I'm thinking from the evidence.

Edited by Hasina

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I beleive it is very difficult to determine when use and mastering of Fire actually started since the nomadic lifestyle and thinly distributed small groups of people could have gained and lost a lot of information with the passage of time.

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Hello L,

I don't know if this article will be of any help,I had posted it in another thread some months ago.The article is quite long but interesting non-the-less,on page three there is some reference to using fire to clear land to encourage the growth of tubers.

The Great Human Migration | History & Archaeology | Smithsonian Magazine

jmccr8

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According to Sandgathe and his colleagues, hominids didn’t really master fire until around 12,000 years ago—well after Neanderthals had disappeared from the face of the planet (or merged into the human gene pool via interbreeding, depending on your view).

Evidence of widespread control of fire dates to approximately 125,000 years ago and later.[2] Evidence for the controlled use of fire by Homo erectus beginning some 400,000 years ago has wide scholarly support, while claims regarding earlier evidence are mostly dismissed as inconclusive or sketchy.[3]

Claims for the earliest definitive evidence of control of fire by a member of Homo range from 0.2 to 1.7 million years ago (Mya).[4]

Source: wiki

Harte

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