Evolutionary anthropology - Homo 'incendius'
Humans have long been captivated by the flickering flames of the campfire. But when did our ancestors first master the use of fire, and which ancient human species was the first to do so? In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Berna and colleagues1 report that they have found fragments of burnt bone and ashed plants in one-million-year-old sediments at Wonderwerk Cave, Northern Cape province, South Africa. This evidence of fire occurs in the same sedimentary layers as Acheulian stone tools, usually considered the handiwork of Homo erectus. Their discovery more than doubles the accepted antiquity of the habitual use of fire by humans2,3, and highlights the benefits of using microscopic and molecular techniques to identify ‘cryptic combustion’ at sites of human occupation — whatever their age*.