New research shows that Neanderthals were able to start fires using stone tools. The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, present the first artefactual evidence for systematic fire production by our extinct close relatives.
Ample evidence from the Middle Paleolithic, which spans 300,000 to 50,000 years ago, has shown that Neanderthals regularly used fire. However, it was unclear whether they collected natural fire, or produced it themselves.
In the new study, archaeologist Andrew Sorensen at Leiden University in the Netherlands and his colleagues re-examined some flint tools that had been found at multiple Neanderthal sites across France. Using a technique called microwear analysis, they identified macroscopic and microscopic striations that suggest the flint tools had been repeatedly struck with a hard mineral.
The researchers then conducted an experiment to see if they could produce similar markings on replica flint tools by using them in a number of different tasks, including fire-making via striking with pyrite fragments. They found that not only was it possible to produce sparks by striking the replica flint with pyrite, but the markings produced by this process were the closest match to the markings found on the Neanderthal flint tools.
Taken together, these findings represent strong evidence that Neanderthals systematically used tools to make fire. This in turn has interesting implications for the understanding of Neanderthal cognition.
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