Humans made fire 790,000 years ago: study
Sun Oct 26, 2008 12:15pm EDT

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A new study shows that humans had the ability to make 
fire nearly 790,000 years ago, a skill that helped them migrate from Africa to 

By analyzing flints at an archaeological site on the bank of the river Jordan, 
researchers at Israel's Hebrew University discovered that early civilizations 
had learned to light fires, a turning point that allowed them to venture into 
unknown lands.

A previous study of the site published in 2004 showed that man had been able to 
control fire -- for example transferring it by means of burning branches -- in 
that early time period. But researchers now say that ancient man could actually 
start fire, rather than relying on natural phenomena such as lightning.

That independence helped promoted migration northward, they say.

The new study, published in a recent edition of Quaternary Science Reviews, 
mapped 12 archaeological layers at Gesher Benot Yaaqov in northern Israel.

"The new data shows there was a continued, controlled use of fire through many 
civilizations and that they were not dependent on natural fires," archaeologist 
Nira Alperson-Afil said on Sunday.

While they did not find remnants of ancient matches or lighters, Alperson-Afil 
said the patterns of burned flint found in the same place throughout 12 
civilizations was evidence of fire-making ability, though the methods used were 

And because the site is located in the Jordan valley -- a key route between 
Africa and Europe -- it provides evidence of the human migration, she said.

"Once they mastered fire to protect themselves from predators and provide 
warmth and light, they were secure enough to move into and populate unfamiliar 
territory," Alperson-Afil said.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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