Latest Issue of Science News


Fire used regularly for cooking for 300,000 years

Hearth in Stone Age cave suggests shift to regular fire use in Middle East

ancient hearth remnant

BAR-B-CLUES  Analyses of light-colored sediment in a 300,000-year-old fireplace, including this roughly 3-square-centimeter patch, revealed bits of burned bone and charred wood embedded in wood ash.

Human ancestors regularly built fires, possibly for cooking, starting around 300,000 years ago, say researchers excavating a Middle Eastern cave.

Remnants of an ancient, 4-square-meter hearth in the center of Israel’s Qesem Cave turned up after three seasons of fieldwork led by archaeologist Ruth Shahack-Gross of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. Shahack-Gross and colleagues suggest in the April Journal of Archaeological Science that the hearth was used for cooking because it lay adjacent to an area where Stone Age hominids cut up deer, wild pigs and other prey into large pieces and another spot where meat was removed from animals’ bones.

“This hearth marks a turning point — for sure in Qesem Cave but maybe also elsewhere — from sporadic to habitual use of fire,” Shahack-Gross says.

Note: To comment, Science News subscribing members must now establish a separate login relationship with Disqus. Click the Disqus icon below, enter your e-mail and click “forgot password” to reset your password. You may also log into Disqus using Facebook, Twitter or Google.

This article is available only to subscribing members. Join SSP today or Log in.