How old is the use of fire? Older than previously thought, according to evidence found near Madrid. In an article published in the journal Scientific Reports are the details. Scientists established that fire was used 250,000 years ago in Europe.
They used fire for activities such as cooking, heating and defense. Modern forensic chemical methods identified molecules of incomplete combustion. Thus, traces of a fire were detected at Valdocarros II, an archaeological site near Madrid.
Dr. Clayton Magill specializes in using geochemistry to reconstruct ancient environmental conditions. “We’ve found definitive evidence of things burning. The remains are organized in a pattern: humans were making and controlling fire. The pattern tells us they were surrounding something. A house, a kitchen, or an animal enclosure.”
Chemical profiles of the charred remains also suggest something else. Certain types of firewood were chosen for their combustion properties, such as heat and smokelessness. The findings are “very exciting.”
“Our species is defined by our use of fire,” Dr. Magill said. “Cooking food to feed ourselves is one of the things that made us so successful in an evolutionary sense. Fire also provides protection and fosters communication and family connection. And now we have evidence of fire being used 250,000 years ago in Europe. That’s 50,000 years earlier than we suspected.”
In the next phase of the project, the research team will study the stone tools found near the hearths. Perhaps they were used to make and control fire. For example, for cutting meat or pulverizing plants.
Worldwide, the oldest clear evidence of human-controlled fire is found in East Africa. It is from about 1.5 million years ago. And in Israel it is about 790,000 years ago. In Europe, countries such as Hungary, France and Germany have been linked to earlier evidence of controlled fire.