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The discovery of fire, or, more precisely, the controlled use of fire was, of necessity, one of the earliest of human discoveries. Fire's purposes are multiple, some of which are to add light and heat, to cook plants and animals, to clear forests for planting, to heat-treat stone for making stone tools, to burn clay for ceramic objects.
Discovery of Fire
The controlled use of fire was an invention of the Early Stone Age (or Lower Paleolithic). The earliest evidence for controlled use of fire is at the Lower Paleolithic site of Gesher Benot Ya'aqovin Israel, where charred wood and seeds were recovered from a site dated 790,000 years ago.
Not everybody believes that; the next oldest site is at Zhoukoudian, a Lower Paleolithic site in China dated to about 400,000 BP, and at Qesem Cave(Israel), between about 200,000-400,000 years ago.
part of the human (meaning
early modern and Neanderthal both) suite of behaviors until ca. 300,000 to
400,000 years ago. They argue that
the earlier sites are representative of
opportunistic use of natural fires. Indirect Evidence In 2013, Terrence Twomey published a
paper in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal, which included a comprehensive discussion
of the early evidence for human-
controlled fire at 400,000-800,000
years ago, citing Gesher and the
newly revised dates for Zhoukoudien
level 10 (780,000-680,000 years ago). Twomey agrees with Roebroeks and
Villa that there is no direct evidence
for domestic fires between 400,000
and 700,000 years ago, but believes
that other, indirect evidence supports
the notion of controlled use of fire. Twomey's argument is based several
lines of indirect evidence. First, he
cites the metabolic demands of
relatively big-brained Middle
Pleistocene hunter-gatherers, and
suggests that brain evolution required cooked food. Further, he argues that
our distinctive sleep patterns (staying
up after dark) are deeply rooted; and
that hominids began staying in
seasonally or permanently cool places
by 800,000 bp. All of this, says Twomey, implies effective control of
fire. Hearth Fire Construction As opposed to fire, a hearth is a
deliberately constructed fireplace. The
earliest fireplaces were made by
collecting stones to contain the fire, or
simply reusing the same location again
and again and allowing the ash to act as hearth construct. Those are found
in the Middle Paleolithic period (ca 200,000-40,000 years ago, at sites
such as Klasies River Caves (South Africa, 125,000 years ago) and Tabun
Cave (at Mt. Carmel, Israel) Earth ovens, on the other hand, are
hearths with banked and sometimes
domed structures built of clay. These
types of hearths were first used during
the Upper Paleolithic (ca 40,000-20,000
years BP), for cooking, heating and, sometimes, to burn clay figurines to hardness. The Gravettian Dolni Vestonice site in the modern Czech Republic has evidence of kiln
construction, although construction
details did not survive. The best
information on Upper Paleolithic kilns
is from the Aurignacian deposits of Klisoura Cave in Greece (ca 32,000-34,000 years ago).

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