Oldest Known Hearth Found in Israel Cave


New species of early human cooked there 300,000 years ago, say archaeologists.


An ancient limestone cave in the rolling countryside east of Tel Aviv has provided a captivating glimpse into humanity's remote past—the oldest known hearth, around which families periodically cooked their meals more than 300,000 years ago.

It's "the first-ever fireplace," said Tel Aviv University archaeologist Ran Barkai in an email, and the earliest-known evidence of domestication of fire. Bringing home and roasting meat are "two very human phenomena that for us seem natural, but really are not. [The hearth] belongs to a crucial time in human biological and cultural evolution."

The hearth lies inside Qesem Cave, which is located in a geographical area known as the Levant—southern Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel.

The identity of the hearth users is a mystery, though. "We call it for now a new hominin lineage," Barkai says.

"It is clearly different than [Homo] erectus and has affinities of both [Homo] sapiens and Neanderthals," he explains. "Since Neanderthals appear very late in the Levant and are of European origin, and since the Qesem [hominin] teeth bear more resemblance to early Homo sapiensin the Levant, we believe they are closer to Homo sapiens."

Qesem Cave was originally uncovered in October 2000 by a construction crew building a road. But it has taken years of excavation and analysis for Barkai, one of the co-leaders of the project, and his colleagues to build what they say is an unequivocal case for how the site was used.

Scientists found a thick bed of ash in the center of the cave. Using infrared spectroscopy, they were able to determine that the tiny bits of bone fragment mingled among the ash had been heated to high temperatures. That suggests this fire pit was used for cooking.

The ashes were not the product of a single blazing bonfire one night at a long-ago barbecue, though. Microscopic analysis of a cross section of the ash bed revealed a vast number of microstrata—layer upon layer of ancient ash, the residue of many, many fires built there over a long period of time.

Charred remnants of animal bones and flint tools used in butchering meat offered additional evidence for the activities that took place there.

Written By: Roff Smith
continue to source article at news.nationalgeographic.com


  1. Since posting this it seems hearths were discovered much earlier—

    “the jury is still out” on whether cooking was responsible for the first dramatic burst of brain growth in our lineage, in H. erectus, Martin says, or whether our ancestors began cooking over a fire later, when the brain went through a second major growth spurt about 600,000 years ago. Hearths show up in the archaeological record 800,000 years ago and the regular use of fire for cooking doesn’t become widespread until more recently

    It’s hard to imagine having fire and not discovering what it did to raw meat…


  2. I think it’s amazing that humans have been using fire for at least 300,000 years, and it’s only the last couple hundred years or so that we’ve done anything really significant with it besides stone hearths and campfires. What the happened?

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