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Archaeology: Neandertals did start the fire

Scientific Reports

July 20, 2018

Just like modern humans, Neandertals knew how to start their own fires using stone tools, according to a study in Scientific Reports.

While research has shown that Neandertals used fire, the means by which they acquired it - whether through collection of natural fire, or by producing it themselves - is still a matter of debate. Distinctly shaped flint tools, evidence of fires started by striking pyrite (an iron-containing mineral) against flint, have been recovered from numerous Homo Sapiens sites throughout Eurasia. However, no such tools had been found at Neandertal sites.

Andrew Sorensen and colleagues studied previously discovered flint tools that Neandertals had used in other tasks such as animal butchering, for signs that they could also have been used to start fires. The researchers identified mineral traces on the tools which suggest that they had been repeatedly struck with a hard mineral material. The authors then went on to produce mineral traces on eight replica flint tools by using them in several tasks involving different stony materials, including fire making using fragments of pyrite.

Examining the various traces left on the replica tools during the individual tasks, the authors conclude that traces produced by fire making are the closest match to the traces found on the previously discovered Neandertal tools, which suggests that Neandertals used tools to start their own fires.

doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-28342-9

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