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 Roc de Marsal

Neandertal Use of Fire - Current Research

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Controlled use of fire represents one of the most important technological advances that occurred in human evolution, though evidence of its earliest uses have been the subject of some debate over the past three decades.

This debate is the result of three main issues with the archaeological evidence.

First, direct evidence for fire is relatively rare because of its ephemeral nature: charcoal and ash are easily removed by post-depositional processes, thus leaving little or no traces in the remaining sediments.

Second, it is not easy to distinguish human-controlled fires from natural events, such as grass and forest fires started by lightening and spontaneous combustion of organic deposits, such as coal, peat or bat guano.

And finally, there are many examples of natural mineral stains (particularly manganese) that have been mistakenly identified as fire.

Although there is some evidence for controlled use of fire by about 250 kyr, much more evidence is available at younger sites such as Kebara Cave, Israel, Pech de l’Azé II, France, and Klasies River Mouth, South Africa.  
After 100 kyr the number of sites with intact hearth features begins to rise substantially, although reporting of such findings has been inconsistent and much of the evidence is either anecdotal or presented solely in site reports rather than in more readily available, mainstream venues.



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