The discovery of million-year-old ash and charred bone in a South African cave suggests that human ancestors were using fire much earlier than previously thought.
Courtesy of Michael Chazan/AP
Early humans harnessed fire as early as a million years ago, much earlier than previously thought, suggests evidence unearthed in a cave in South Africa.
Charred bones and ash discovered in South Africa's Wonderwerk Cave indicate the presence of frequent, controlled fires at the site one million years ago, writes an international team of scientists in a study published Monday in the Procedings of the National Academy of Sciences. If these findings are correct, they will overtake the earliest widely accepted evidence of early human use of fire, which was discovered in northern China and dates to 400,000 years ago.
Those fires, as well as the fires in Wonderwerk Cave, were probably burned by Homo erectus, a species thought to be a human ancestor or a relative of one. The cave itself is one of the oldest known sites of human habitation, with signs of early human settlement dating back two million years.