Leiden researchers: The use of fire spread rapidly around the world 400,000 years ago

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Leiden, Jul 31, 2021, 2:21 pm By Editors

That Prometheus stole fire from the gods, as the Greek myth says, is highly improbable. But how and when exactly the first man learned to light a fire, science is still ignorant of this. Leiden scholars now have a hypothesis about the later period: how the use of fire subsequently spread throughout the world.

According to the research, published in the scientific journal PNAS, the use of fire by hominins increased remarkably quickly between 400,000 and 350,000 years ago, on an archaeological time scale. Analysis of fire path locations indicates that this has happened in all kinds of places around the world, so writes NOS.

This is the main reason researchers believe that the skill of making a fire was passed down through social interactions between groups of early humans, says archaeologist Fulko Shergon. If their hypothesis is correct, the researchers say it is the oldest example of so-called cultural diffusion. “Relatively, it went so fast that it’s hard to conclude that they learned this from each other,” Shergonne says.

mutual tolerance
Cultural diffusion is certainly not unique. But it is often seen as characteristic of modern man, sane man, given that different cultures adopt innovations and practices from each other. The Leiden researchers believe that their findings show that the cultural behavior of hominins such as Neanderthals, standing man The Denisovans are closer to sane man With the monkeys that came down from them. The researchers say early humans, too, moved in complex social networks, met regularly, and were tolerant enough to adopt skills from one another.

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There are many ways in which innovations spread. Different peoples also inherited farming skills from each other. But since agriculture has been “invented” independently of each other in several places in the world, the question is whether this also applies to fire. The researchers argue that if a fire was also detected in multiple locations without interaction, there likely would not have been a sudden increase in fire use over the same period. Then more time passes. Unless there were some global external circumstances where fire would have benefited many groups of humans at the same time, such as a change in climate. However, according to the researchers, such a circumstance could not be determined.

Migration and reproduction
Other hypotheses are also unlikely, the researchers say. In theory, it is possible that fire did not travel elsewhere through cultural interactions, but through mass migration.

Gene transmission is another theoretical possibility. If the ability to start a fire gives a greater chance of survival, then individuals who have the genes suitable for fire will pass those genes on to subsequent generations. By procreating with an individual of another group, these genes can spread across multiple groups.

But according to the researchers, the migration and diffusion of genes will take much longer. In addition, the use of fire has been observed in genetically very different groups of humans. According to the researchers, this makes cultural diffusion the most likely, although compelling evidence for this is difficult to find: the history of the fire site has an accuracy of 10,000 years. Shergon: “The conditions must be right. All the human species that existed at that time began to use fire, so groups must be able to work well together. They probably used it as a medium of exchange, for food, for example. At least we know that they They passed on knowledge to their descendants.

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There’s one more thing to consider, suggests Stephen Payne, an expert on fire history, in a conversation with New Scientist. The fire may have spread from group to group less peacefully than Leyden’s research indicates: “I suppose the fire spread mainly from one tribe to another because it was stolen or pillaged.”

Leiden Science

Megan Vasquez

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