Previous Sparks The clues indicating early use of fire tend to be subtle; it’s easy to miss them, but it’s also easy to see them when they’re not really there.
What looks like charring on a rock or bone, for example, often turns out to be staining from minerals or fungus.
No longer needing huge choppers, heavy-duty guts or a branch swinger’s arms and shoulders, they could instead grow mega-craniums.
Cooking food, he argues, allowed for easier chewing and digestion, making extra calories available to fuel energy-hungry brains.
Firelight could ward off nighttime predators, allowing hominins to sleep on the ground, or in caves, instead of in trees.
And high-tech analytic techniques don’t always banish the ambiguity.
In recent decades, a number of sites have vied for the title of earliest human-controlled fire.
Their findings also fanned the flames of a decade-old debate over the influence of fire, particularly cooking, on the evolution of our species’s relatively capacious brains.
At Wonderwerk, Boston University archaeologist Paul Goldberg — a specialist in soil micromorphology, or the small-scale study of sediments — dug chunks of compacted dirt from the old excavation area.
The first tool detects burned earth by gauging fluctuations in its magnetic field; the second determines how long ago an object was heated by measuring the photons it emits when baked in a lab.
Although these methods showed that burning had occurred, the evidence is simply too sparse to convince most archaeologists that humans — not wildfires or lightning — were responsible.
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