Washington: A team of Israeli scientists have recently discovered in the Qesem Cave, near present-day Rosh Ha`ayin, the earliest evidence - dating to around 300,000 years ago - of unequivocal repeated fire building over a continuous period.
The team is headed by Profs. Avi Gopher and Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University. Dr. Ruth Shahack-Gross of the Kimmel Center for Archeological Science at the Weizmann Institute has been involved in this archaeological research since excavations began, and she collects samples on-site for later detailed analysis in the lab.
Using infrared spectroscopy, she and her team were able to determine that mixed in with the ash were bits of bone and soil heated to very high temperatures. This was conclusive proof that the area had been the site of a large hearth.
Scan of a sediment "slice" from the hearth area of the cave showing burnt bone and rock fragments within the grey ash residue round the hearth area, as well as inside it, the archaeologists found large numbers of flint tools that were clearly used for cutting meat.
In contrast, the flint tools found just a few meters away had a different shape, designed for other activities.
Also in and around the area were large numbers of burnt animal bones - further evidence for repeated fire use for cooking meat. Shahack-Gross and her colleagues have shown that this organization of various "household" activities into different parts of the cave points to an organization of space - and a thus kind of social order - that is typical of modern humans.
She said that these findings help them to fix an important turning point in the human culture development - that in which humans first began to regularly use fire both for cooking meat and as a focal point - for social gatherings.
These findings have been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.