Homo naledi could have lit fires in caves no less than 236,000 years in the past

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An historic hominid dubbed Homo naledi could have lit managed fires within the pitch-dark chambers of an underground cave system, new discoveries trace.

Researchers have discovered remnants of small fireplaces and sooty wall and ceiling smudges in passages and chambers all through South Africa’s Rising Star cave complicated, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger introduced in a December 1 lecture hosted by the Carnegie Establishment of Science in Washington, D.C.

“Indicators of fireplace use are all over the place on this cave system,” mentioned Berger, of the College of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

H. naledi presumably lit the blazes within the caves since stays of no different hominids have turned up there, the crew says. However the researchers have but so far the age of the hearth stays. And researchers outdoors Berger’s group have but to judge the brand new finds.

H. naledi fossils date to between 335,000 and 236,000 years in the past (SN: 5/9/17), across the time Homo sapiens originated (SN: 6/7/17). Many researchers suspect that common use of fireplace by hominids for gentle, heat and cooking started roughly 400,000 years in the past (SN: 4/2/12).

Such habits has not been attributed to H. naledi earlier than, largely due to its small mind. Nevertheless it’s now clear {that a} mind roughly one-third the dimensions of human brains immediately nonetheless enabled H. naledi to realize management of fireplace, Berger contends.

Final August, Berger climbed down a slim shaft and examined two underground chambers the place H. naledi fossils had been discovered. He observed stalactites and skinny rock sheets that had partly grown over older ceiling surfaces. These surfaces displayed blackened, burned areas and have been additionally dotted by what gave the impression to be soot particles, Berger mentioned.

In the meantime, expedition codirector and Wits paleoanthropologist Keneiloe Molopyane led excavations of a close-by cave chamber. There, the researchers uncovered two small fireplaces containing charred bits of wooden, and burned bones of antelopes and different animals. Stays of a hearth and close by burned animal bones have been then found in a extra distant cave chamber the place H. naledi fossils have been discovered.

Nonetheless, the principle problem for investigators shall be so far the burned wooden and bones and different fireplace stays from the Rising Star chambers and display that the fireplaces there come from the identical sediment layers as H. naledi fossils, says paleoanthropologist W. Andrew Barr of George Washington College in Washington, D.C., who wasn’t concerned within the work.

“That’s a completely vital first step earlier than will probably be attainable to take a position about who could have made fires for what motive,” Barr says.

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