Shut Up, Frankenstein: Fire GOOD!

Life before man learned to control fire was many things, but mainly it was cold, dark, and perpetually undercooked. The harnessing of fire was perhaps the single greatest turning point in the history of mankind. But just when and where did early human finally learn to make their own fire? The answer lies at least 125,000 years in the past.

Actual photographic evidence of cavemen using fire.

Actual photographic evidence of cavemen using fire.

Come On Baby, Light My…

The earliest existing evidence of mankind—in this case Homo erectus—controlling fire dates back 1.7 million years. These claims are frequently refuted, and the veracity of it kind of depends on one’s definition of “control.” Solid, widely-accepted evidence of mankind’s intentional use, though not necessarily “control”, of fire comes to us from about 400,000 years ago. The earliest supported evidence of mankind for real, for sure, totally on purpose, actively controlling fire has been dated to roughly 125,000 years ago.

This definitive evidence includes burnt animal bones—with human-inflicted cut marks—found at Swartkrans, a National Heritage Site located 20 miles south of Johannesburg, South Africa. Even stronger evidence comes from Zambia’s Kalambo Falls area. Numerous artifacts related to the human use of fire have been found there, including charred logs, charcoal, carbonized plants, and fire-hardened wooden implements. Radiocarbon dating has established the date range of these artifacts as between 61,000 and 110,000 years ago.

Let Me Stand Next to Your…

In Asia, the Qesem Cave archaeological site near Tel-Aviv has yielded evidence of regular fire use that dates back to roughly 382,000 years ago. Evidence discovered in China’s Zhoukoudian cave system points to the use of fire by humans as far back at 460,000 years ago. Burned bones, ash, and charcoal are among the ancient artifacts found in the caves. Testing on the uniformly blackened bones shows characteristics of burning, rather than manganese staining, which could yield a similar visual effect.

I Fell Into A Burning Ring of…

Europe is lousy with evidence of later, but still plenty ancient, humans using fire. The oldest evidence comes from Beeches Pit in Suffolk, England. Uranium series dating—which sounds much more sinister than carbon dating, in an ‘80s to mid-‘90s action movie bad guy kind of way—of the site suggests that mankind utilized fire there as much as 415,000 years ago.

In Hungary, Spain, and elsewhere, various artifacts and evidence point to mankind harnessing fire around 350,000 years ago. Stone hearths found in France have been dated to 200,000 years ago, suggesting that humans of that time period had greatly advanced their control of fire and had truly made it their b!+©#.

Photo credit: Misserion via / CC BY