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The control of fire by early humans was a turning point in the technological evolution of human beings. Fire provided a source of warmth and lighting, protection from predators (especially at night), a way to create more advanced hunting tools, and a method for cooking food. These cultural advances allowed human geographic dispersal, cultural innovations, and changes to diet and behavior. Additionally, creating fire allowed human activity to continue into the dark and colder hours of the evening.

Claims for the earliest definitive evidence of control of fire by a member of Homo range from 1.7 to 2.0 million years ago (Mya).[1] Evidence for the "microscopic traces of wood ash" as controlled use of fire by Homo erectus, beginning some 1,000,000 years ago, has wide scholarly support.[2][3] Flint blades burned in fires roughly 300,000 years ago were found near fossils of early but not entirely modern Homo sapiens in Morocco.[4] Fire was used regularly and systematically by early modern humans to heat treat silcrete stone to increase its flake-ability for the purpose of toolmaking approximately 164,000 years ago at the South African site of Pinnacle Point.[5] Evidence of widespread control of fire by anatomically modern humans dates to approximately 125,000 years ago.[6] They also used fire for light.

Control of fire

Use and control of fire was a gradual process, proceeding through more than one stage. One was a change in habitat, from dense forest, where wildfires were common, to savanna (mixed grass/woodland) where wildfires were of higher intensity.[Homo range from 1.7 to 2.0 million years ago (Mya).[1] Evidence for the "microscopic traces of wood ash" as controlled use of fire by Homo erectus, beginning some 1,000,000 years ago, has wide scholarly support.[2][3] Flint blades burned in fires roughly 300,000 years ago were found near fossils of early but not entirely modern Homo sapiens in Morocco.[4] Fire was used regularly and systematically by early modern humans to heat treat silcrete stone to increase its flake-ability for the purpose of toolmaking approximately 164,000 years ago at the South African site of Pinnacle Point.[5] Evidence of widespread control of fire by anatomically modern humans dates to approximately 125,000 years ago.[6] They also used fire for light.

Use and control of fire was a gradual process, proceeding through more than one stage. One was a change in habitat, from dense forest, where wildfires were common, to savanna (mixed grass/woodland) where wildfires were of higher intensity.[citation needed] Such a change may have occurred about 3 Mya, when the savanna expanded in East Africa due to cooler and drier climate.[7][8]

The next stage involved interaction with burned landscapes and foraging in the wake of wildfires, as observed in various wild animals.[7][8] In the African savanna, animals that preferentially forage in recently burned areas include savanna chimpanzees (a variety of Pan troglodytes verus),[7][9] vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops)[10] and a variety of birds, some of which also hunt insects and small vertebrates in the wake of grass fires.[9][11]

The next step would be to make some use of residual hot spots that occur in the wake of wildfires. For example, foods found in the wake of wildfires tend to be either burned or undercooked. This might have provided incentives to place undercooked foods on a hotspot or to pull food out of the fire if it were in danger of getting burned. This would require familiarity with fire and its behavior.[12][8]

An early step in the control of fire would have been transporting it from burned to unburned areas and lighting them on fire, providing advantages in food acquisition.[8] Maintaining a fire over an extended period of time, as for a season (such as the dry season), may have led to the development of base campsites. Building a hearth or other fire enclosure such as a circle of stones would have been a later development.[13] The ability to make fire, generally with a friction device with hardwood rubbing against softwood (as in a bow drill), was a later development.[7]

Each of these stages could occur at different intensities, ranging from occasional or "opportunistic" to "habitual" to "obligate" (unable to survive without it).[8][13]

Lower Paleolithic evidence