Stone Age people
Last Updated: Saturday, August 15, 2009, 14:37
London: Stone Age "blacksmiths" used fire to make sharp tools 164,000 years ago -- much earlier than the scientists thought, a new study has revealed.

Previously the first use of heat treatment was thought to have been in Europe 25,000 years ago. The technique wasn't believed to have been invented until long after ancestors of modern humans had left Africa and settled in Europe and Asia.

Now, an international team has discovered that people were using fire to make sharp blades out of poor stone 164,000 years ago, the 'New Scientist' reported.

According to scientists, just as raising temperature can change the properties of iron and other metals, the early humans heated stone to make it easier to flake -- the process transformed silcrete into a raw material for tool manufacture.

Lead scientist Kyle Brown of University of Cape Town in South Africa said: "Our illumination of the heat treatment process shows that these early modern humans commanded fire in a nuanced and sophisticated manner.

"We show that early modern humans at 72,000 years ago and perhaps as early as 164,000 years ago in coastal South Africa, were using carefully controlled hearths in a complex process to heat stone and change its properties, the process known as heat treatment."

In fact, at 47,000 to 164,000 years old, the blades may date from the dawn of modern human behaviour, involving not just complex tool use but also language and art, according to the scientists.

"These people were extremely smart. I don't think you could've passed down the skills from generation to generation without language," Brown said.

And, such adaptations may have given the first modern humans to leave Africa the tools and know-how to conquer the world. It may also have given them a big advantage over the resident Neanderthals they encountered.

Added team member Prof Curtis Marean of Arizona State University in the US: "The command of fire, documented by our study of heat treatment provides us with potential explanation for the rapid migration of these Africans across Eurasia.

"They were masters of fire and heat and stone, a crucial advantage as these tropical people penetrated the cold lands of the Neanderthal."

The findings are published in the latest edition of the 'Science' journal.


First Published: Saturday, August 15, 2009, 14:37

comments powered by Disqus