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Thread: Did our ancestors using tools and cook with fire 1 million years ago?

  1. #1 Did our ancestors using tools and cook with fire 1 million years ago? 
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    I wasn't sure where discussion on this could go, maybe here or the biology area. But I found this story to be intriguing. Recent discoveries in a cave in South Africa seem to indicate that humans that existed 1 million years ago used fire to cook with. This challenges some pre-existing understandings of past human societies it would seem.


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    This challenges some pre-existing understandings of past human societies it would seem.
    Not really. There's a view that our extraordinary brain size and ability is directly related to learning to use fire for cooking. It makes it a lot easier to digest the food you get from hunting. So you get more nutrition from whatever you've managed to kill.

    I know there are a couple of references (which I didn't save). I'll have a look around.


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    The Enchanter westwind's Avatar
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    Could it be that after a lightening strike initiated fire some animals were caught up in the blaze and roasted to perfection, to be discovered by some ravenous hunter returning from a bad day at the supermarket? His wife would certainly make a meal of this harvest, and as we can see, it certainly caught on. westwind.
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    "roasted to perfection" LOL

    You seem to be in the ballpark though. This site is nearly 800,000 million years old.
    Evidence of Hominin Control of Fire at Gesher Benot Ya`aqov, Israel

    This topic reminds me of the vid showing a bonobo roasting a marshmellow, which suggest we were smart enough to overcome our fear of fire a long time before we starting using it on a regular basis.
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    Quote Originally Posted by westwind View Post
    Could it be that after a lightening strike initiated fire some animals were caught up in the blaze and roasted to perfection, to be discovered by some ravenous hunter returning from a bad day at the supermarket? His wife would certainly make a meal of this harvest, and as we can see, it certainly caught on. westwind.
    Westwind's theory could be valid, but in his/her scenario, the blaze would have to reach extreme temperatures and speeds to catch up to said animals and "roast" them. More remains of the same fire may be found around the area, but if not, it could definitely be the discovery of fire for man.

    Remember, we really have no idea as to what happened that long ago. Most of the evidence that could have been found days, months, years later in a present-day case probably would have been washed away over centuries
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    Fires usefulness might well have come from roasting roots and other vegetables as well.
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    OK. Looking things up. Haven't found the recent item I had in mind, but these give food for thought.

    Lynx's roots and tubers plus westwind's lightning lead to ..... Pennisi: Did Cooked Tubers Spur the Evolution of Big Brains?

    And the notion that we couldn't have developed our brain size and the associated jaw and teeth structure by hunting and eating raw meat alone. Cooking Up Bigger Brains: Scientific American

    This is mainly around the work of one bloke whose background is chimps and their ecology rather than human evolution. Good thinking material. Have to wait a good while to see if any real supporting evidence turns up once people start looking for it - if they choose to do so.
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    A lot of paleoanthropologists believe our ancestor, Homo habilis, which lived 1.5 to 2.5 million years ago, could make use of fire, which may have included cooking. This is because of charcoal remnants associated with such early fossils. However, most do not believe habilis could make fire. Just use it. The implication is that Homo habilis may have eaten cooked food, but not as a routine matter. Most of its food would have been uncooked.

    The human gut is very small for our size - the smallest of any primate. Our teeth are small also. They are suited to a species that cooks its food. How long would it take the gut and the teeth to evolve to small size? That is how long our ancestors had fire.

    As to cooking stimulating the rise of the big brain...
    Ardipithecus about 5 million years ago had a brain size roughly 400 cc (similar to chimp). Australopithecus about 3 million years ago had a slightly larger brain - to 500 cc. Homo habilis had a larger brain still (1.5 to 2.5 million years ago) at 800 cc. So it appears that brain size was evolving towards greater mass well before fires and cooking appeared.
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    Could it be when they soon learned to create fire they immediately began to worship the fire in some way? Thus throwing (dead or alive) animal sacrifices onto their "fire god" to feed it. Surely only a matter of time, after they start eating what the fire god left over, that they were on to a good thing. Just a thought!
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    Quote Originally Posted by westwind View Post
    Could it be that after a lightening strike initiated fire some animals were caught up in the blaze and roasted to perfection, to be discovered by some ravenous hunter returning from a bad day at the supermarket? His wife would certainly make a meal of this harvest, and as we can see, it certainly caught on. westwind.
    Probably the first use for fire would have been warmth and/or protection, because those uses would be obvious right from the start (no need for a special scenario to inform them of it.) Cooking would happen later after they were already quite used to having a fire around their camp.

    I'm betting that, when mankind first learned to make fire, it wasn't by rubbing two sticks together. It would be more likely to emerge in a place where there was lots of flint to make sparks with.
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    Richard Wrangham has postulated (haven't seen any good evidence) that cooking "made us human" (whatever that means). He believes that Homo Erectus had smaller teeth, larger brains and smaller jaws than its Hominid ancestors due to the advent of cooking.
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    However, Fire was used by Homo erectus in northern China more than 400,000 years ago and perhaps earlier. The association of blackened bones with stone artifacts indicates that humans controlled fire at the time of the habitation of the Zhoukoudian cave.

    Weiner, S.; Q. Xu, P. Goldberg, J. Liu, O. Bar-Yosef (1998). "Evidence for the Use of Fire at Zhoukoudian, China". Science 281 (5374): 251–253.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jimlaman8 View Post
    I wasn't sure where discussion on this could go, maybe here or the biology area. But I found this story to be intriguing. Recent discoveries in a cave in South Africa seem to indicate that humans that existed 1 million years ago used fire to cook with. This challenges some pre-existing understandings of past human societies it would seem.
    Interesting discovery.
    This may also be related to early humans living in the coastal regions of So Africa some 165,000 years ago using tools and fire to prepare shellfish dinners. It might also explain a northward migration along the coast. Knowledge of how harvest shellfish would provide a abundant food source all along the coast and not require a major change in hunting techniques from forest, to plains, to deserts which other migrants would be subjected to.

    First humans 'lived at southern tip of Africa' - Science - News - The Independent
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    There is still enormous doubt and uncertainty over all of this. Often, careful analysis of the sediment around fossils show fragments of charcoal. Does this indicate a cooking fire? Or is it the remnant of a forest fire? We do not know. Such remnants have been found associated with Homo habilis sites back about 2 million years.

    Dating the origins of our species, and of the first camp fires are also filled with doubt. The best we can do is look for the oldest bones and the oldest clear camp fire remains, and say that (maybe, perhaps) that might be roughly the first???
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    There is still enormous doubt and uncertainty over all of this. Often, careful analysis of the sediment around fossils show fragments of charcoal. Does this indicate a cooking fire? Or is it the remnant of a forest fire? We do not know. Such remnants have been found associated with Homo habilis sites back about 2 million years.

    Dating the origins of our species, and of the first camp fires are also filled with doubt. The best we can do is look for the oldest bones and the oldest clear camp fire remains, and say that (maybe, perhaps) that might be roughly the first???
    IMO, remnants of fire in caves may be the more reliable indication of intentional use of fire for a purpose.
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    I'm sure our ancestor knows the concept of heat and they rub stuff to get more heat... maybe some caught on fire!
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    Quote Originally Posted by msafwan View Post
    I'm sure our ancestor knows the concept of heat and they rub stuff to get more heat... maybe some caught on fire!
    Like trying to make tools using flint.
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    Cooking almost certainly invented itself many times

    From around 1.5 millon years ago, early humans could control fire [ homo ergastor ]
    If you were a proto human on a hunting expedition you would light a fire at night to keep animals away.
    Naturally any game you had killed would be placed near to the fire for the same reason - by the morning you have slow cooked meat.
    Cooking greatly broke down food and released nutrients resulting in a superior diet which almost certainly did 'make us human'
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    Quote Originally Posted by jimlaman8 View Post
    I wasn't sure where discussion on this could go, maybe here or the biology area. But I found this story to be intriguing. Recent discoveries in a cave in South Africa seem to indicate that humans that existed 1 million years ago used fire to cook with. This challenges some pre-existing understandings of past human societies it would seem.
    No. It's been established for many decades that homo erectus used tools and cooked with fire.

    Most of the modern breakthroughs in paleoanthropology have been ancient Y chromosomes in Africa, the "hobbits" in Indonesia, and if the Neanderthals and Denisovans contributed to modern human DNA. Saying humans used tools a million years ago is old hat.

    It would REALLy shit things up though if a complete modern human skeleton was dated to 4 million years or something lol...
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    IIRC H. Erectus is known to have used fire around 2.4 mya.

    There's still argument about whether they could talk but a recent article on a complete hyoid bone from H. Neanderthalensis has proven that they could; and this ability is unlikely to have developed from scratch in such a short time as the time between the developments of H. Erectus and H. Neanderthalensis.
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    Quote Originally Posted by tszy View Post
    Cooking almost certainly invented itself many times

    From around 1.5 millon years ago, early humans could control fire [ homo ergastor ]
    If you were a proto human on a hunting expedition you would light a fire at night to keep animals away.
    Naturally any game you had killed would be placed near to the fire for the same reason - by the morning you have slow cooked meat.
    Cooking greatly broke down food and released nutrients resulting in a superior diet which almost certainly did 'make us human'
    I agree. And I also think that the chance discovery of cooking might not have taken too long either. If our ancestors made use of camp fires regularly, sooner than later they must have realised what a good idea that was for a completely different reason.
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    The OP could have a point, but it would have to be with relatively small game in a given locale.

    Say an ancestor of a modern warthog or aurochs calf or something got caught in a fire, died of asphyxiation due to the smoke and its carcass was cooked in essence. So a homo erectus hunting party discovered it, ate it, and figured out a way to make fire to reproduce ancient aurochs veal..

    We may never know how and when, unless we go into a time machine and can point this to the time and place....

    It's likely though that once stone tool crafting was invented, a growth in intelligence snowballed upwards, as better tools led to better hunting ability, better food, better physiology, more intelligence and so forth.
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