300,000-Year-Old Hearth in Israel Hints at Prehistoric Home Culture

Tuesday, 28 Jan 2014 07:58 AM

By Michael Mullins

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A 300,000-year-old hearth was discovered recently by a team of Israeli scientists on an archaeological dig near present-day Rosh Ha'ayin, about 15 miles East of Tel Aviv. The find hints at a prehistoric home culture.

The stone-lined fireplace was found inside the Qesem Cave, a site where a Tel Aviv University team of archeologists headed by Profs. Avi Gopher and Ran Barkai have been digging since 2000, according to ScienceDaily.com.

A thick deposit of wood ash found at the center of the cave was viewed through an infrared spectroscopy by Dr. Ruth Shahack-Gross, who was able to determine that the materials were comprised of soil and bone bits that had been heated to very high temperatures, as would be the case in a hearth.

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The findings were subsequently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

In addition to the discovery of the 300,000-year-old hearth, the Israeli archeologists also found a substantial amount of flint tools that were used to cut meat, as well as a large number of animal bones that had been burnt, in the vicinity of the hearth.

Several meters away were other flint tools that were shaped differently and consequently likely had a different purpose, ScienceDaily.com reported.

Much like homes are organized today, the cave also appeared to have been compartmentalized where certain activities were carried out in specific areas, the researchers observed.

According to the archeologists, the cave likely acted as a type of base camp for prehistoric humans.

"These findings help us to fix an important turning point in the development of human culture – that in which humans first began to regularly use fire both for cooking meat and as a focal point – a sort of campfire – for social gatherings," Shahack-Gross said in the report, ScienceDaily.com reported. "They also tell us something about the impressive levels of social and cognitive development of humans living some 300,000 years ago."

Through their findings, the scientists argue that a substantial change in human behavior demonstrated by the level of organizational skills exhibited by the cave's occupants suggested that a new culture, and perhaps a new human species, had emerged some 400,000 years ago.

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