Early Humans in South Africa’s Wonderwerk Cave Used Fire to Roast Meat a Million Years Ago

Stephen Nartey September 12, 2022
Wonderwerk cave/Photo credit: Artnews

It remains one of the factual pieces of evidence to back the claim that early humans who lived in Africa two million years ago used fire. Though it was an accidental discovery, archaeologists say the Wonderwerk Cave has brought to the fore a revealing insight about how early humans controlled fire.

The millions of years’ layers of soil excavated by researches from Boston University showed that the early men were able to light fire in the cave using dry leaves and branches.

This discovery to some extent have put to rest a decade old debate over whether early men had the appreciation in using fire to prepare food after hunting and gathering, as chronicled by the discover magazine.

The journal said the researchers initially were looking for signs of prehistoric fires to determine how old the layers of earth were.

The team however stumbled on the remains of campfires from million years ago after analyzing it, ending the age old debate. Paul Goldberg, archaeologist with the Boston University, said the research team chanced on the layers of earth after they dug chunks of soil from the site.

According to him, they placed it on the sun to dry and later soaked them in a polyester resin to enable the particles to solidify.

He recounted that they were extremely happy when the findings turned out to contain ashes after they run their scientific analysis.

Paul indicated that after further probing they saw particles of leaf and sticks and discovered bits of animal bones. He said the features of the bones sharp edges and leaves go to suggest the fires were lighted by the early humans in the cave and not in the open.

He said further archaeological analysis of the layers of earth revealed the flames burned at 750 and 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, which was characteristic of small fires made out of bushes and sticks.

There have been doubts whether early men had the ability to carry out such an endeavor. Archaeologists believed early humans had bigger brains as they walked and took up hunting and crafted their own world space.

Some schools of thought have advanced arguments in support of the possibility of early humans lighting fire, stating that it was a result of their desire to ward off predators, sleep in comfort, and make their hunt easier to feed on.

Archaeologists who antagonized this position indicated that the only setting in which early humans could light fire was in a controlled place such as a cave. They often discounted that possibility because such evidence was not available.

The early excavations of possible evidence of fire turned out to be fungus and minerals on the rock layers. The Wonderwerk cave findings however puts this debate to rest.

Paul and his team say they are digging more and would be analyzing layers of earth dating 1.8 million years to consolidate their evidence on early humans use of fire in Africa.

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