Camp fires have SA origins

2012-04-02 18:19

Washington - Scientists said on Monday they have uncovered the earliest evidence of camp fires made by human ancestors in a cave in South Africa, suggesting that the practice may have started one million years ago.

Until now, experts have found little consensus on when our prehistoric cousins figured out how to make sparks for cooking food and keeping warm, according to the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Hints of such activity have been found in Africa, Asia and Europe, but the earliest signs of fire were believed to be scorched pot pieces in Israel, dating to around 700 000-800 000 years ago.

Fragments of burnt animal bones and stone tools that appear to be even older have since been found in layers of sediment at the Wonderwerk Cave in north-central South Africa where earlier excavations have shown a significant record of human occupation.

Researchers found "well preserved ashed plant material and burned bone fragments deposited in situ on discrete surfaces and mixed within sediment" in the cave, suggesting small, local fires near the entrance, said the study.

Some of the fragments show evidence of surface discolouration typical of a controlled burn and not a wildfire or other natural event, it added.

"The analysis pushes the timing for the human use of fire back by 300 000 years, suggesting that human ancestors as early as Homo erectus may have begun using fire as part of their way of life," said University of Toronto anthropologist Michael Chazan, co-director of the project.

Homo erectus is the oldest known early human. With long legs and large brains that resembled modern people they were believed to roam the Earth beginning 1.8 million years ago, long before the Neanderthals.

"The control of fire would have been a major turning point in human evolution," said Chazan.

"The impact of cooking food is well documented, but the impact of control over fire would have touched all elements of human society. Socializing around a camp fire might actually be an essential aspect of what makes us human."

The international team of researchers included experts from Boston University, Heidelberg Academy of Science and Humanities in Germany, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and University of Toronto, Canada.

  • Albert - 2012-04-02 18:30

    This is old news. Grandpa told me that he saw it with his own eyes while exploring Africa with his series 2A Land Rover.

      Oscar - 2012-04-02 20:00

      We were the first to discover fire, we had the first human beings in the cradle of mankind, we were the first jewellers with the little golden rhino, we were the best architects and tradesmen in the world with the Zimbabwe ruins as evidence etc. So what the hell then happened in Africa between the dawn of creation and 1652 when Jan van Riebeeck arrived here in terms of progress and development? Maybe all the intelligent ones were beamed up by Scotty.

      The.One.and.Only.Warren.Lewis - 2012-04-02 22:29

      Oscar: a good book to read up on this subject (of why Europeans had technological innovations and annexed Africa instead of the other way around) is Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.

  • Shirley - 2012-04-02 18:46

    At least they didnt have to pay Eskom their outlandish tarrifs!

      Morne - 2012-04-02 19:14

      I know its not funny, but lmga!

  • ben.nel2 - 2012-04-02 18:59

    Were they singing "kumbaya my lord"?

      Mark - 2012-04-02 19:42

      probably not. religion hadn't been invented yet.

  • barry.mcbride - 2012-04-02 19:00

    It's those ANCestors again!

  • Spyker - 2012-04-02 19:03

    Under the ANC we will be back in the caves making fires, in less than 0.2% of the time, since the 'first' fire was made here.

  • Frank - 2012-04-02 19:13

    Were they there one million years ago to see and record the eveny?

      mbossenger - 2012-04-02 19:38

      Frank - you've got it, my son - absolutely right! In fact, why don't we scrap all forensic science? After all, nobody was there to witness these events, were they?

      Douglas - 2012-04-02 21:37

      @zaa: There's also hardly a credible scholar who doubts that Jesus was a person firmly rooted in history, who had disciples and was crucified under one Pontius Pilate. This we learn from secular writings only. Just for the record.

      Grunt - 2012-04-02 22:20

      @ Frank. I agree. Amazing how they can come up with this with 'technology' that has been proved to be wrong. @ zaatheist. Did you enjoy yesterdays special day especially for you and your kind? Psalm 14 says "The fool says in his heart, there is no God", & yesterday was April FOOL's Day, just for you.

      Fredster - 2012-04-03 07:05

      Agree. How is it possible that for almost 1 million years, man could not achieve anything, and only in the last 100 years or so, everything boomed. I say that is bollox

  • Morne - 2012-04-02 19:15

    Sid discovered this at the end of the ice-age already! I got the movie - 1,2 and 3!

  • bashin.monyela - 2012-04-02 19:16

    How many millions ago? Nonsense!! That ish probably aint but a couple a thou years or less.

      Grant - 2012-04-02 19:38

      //The international team of researchers included experts from Boston University, Heidelberg Academy of Science and Humanities in Germany, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and University of Toronto, Canada// //bashin.monyela: Nonsense// Someone here's talking out their posteriour, I don't think it's the experts.

      SaleƩ - 2012-04-02 19:53

      @bashin.monyela, why are you writing in Eboniks? :-/

  • bashin.monyela - 2012-04-02 19:21

    How many millions ago? Nonsense!! That ish probably aint but a couple a thou years or less.

      kathy.collins.3781 - 2012-05-22 16:51

      I totally agree with you on that one and surely the ash and wood would have disintegrated by now after millions of years. On CHELSEA!!!! WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS MY FRIEND.... :)

  • bluzulu - 2012-04-02 19:23

    So ....We had Fire First, Nice one.

  • SaleĆ© - 2012-04-02 19:57

    @William is winning this! Oh! The wit!

  • FeF - 2012-04-02 20:02

    So I can blame it on my genes when I Braai from Friday afternoon till Sunday night...

  • Frank - 2012-04-02 20:03

    All you evolutionists; keep on dreaming!!!

  • velvybokov - 2012-04-02 20:08

    Interetsing... The bible attributes the first usage of fire to Adam. But I don't suppose science is interested in evaluating the authenticity of the bible.... Sounds like a smokey article to me. Sounds like the evidence of some burnt pot might be given more academic value than expected :D Also of interest is that University of Jerusalem and WITS worked together on this and no mention of UJ. Good. We don't need the silly boycotting varsity who will stand to lose by not being involved.

      zaatheist - 2012-04-02 20:37

      No, science is not interested in authenticating Grimm's Fairy Tales, Aesop's Fables or Alice in Wonderland either.

  • hugocoetzee.cpt - 2012-04-02 20:15

    Ons ken mos van braai!

  • peter.retief - 2012-04-02 20:31

    I knew it! Braai's started in South Africa!

  • Tania - 2012-04-02 20:58

    This article makes it sound like M Chazan and his team were the first to uncover this evidence. But see the first article which appeared last year by P Beaumont at He was the first to uncover the earliest evidence of fire-making and to publish this in Current Anthropology: The Edge: More on Fire-Making by about 1.7 Million Years Ago at Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa. Peter B. Beaumont, Current Anthropology Vol. 52, No. 4 (August 2011), pp. 585-595.

      Tania - 2012-04-02 21:02

      Sorry, the link to the article by Beaumont is

  • hein.huyser - 2012-04-03 06:36

    So we had fire and then? what went wrong? Surely having fire first would've put us on the forefront of the developing world. Wonder what went wrong? Maybe, just maybe Isaiah 19 is right after all Ps: don't comment if you haven't checked out the Scripture first

  • hein.huyser - 2012-04-03 06:38

    We have the national "braai day" after all. Back to our roots it seems.The more things change the more they stay the same.

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