Homo naledi could use fire

(ORDO NEWS) — In the caves where primitive Homo naledi lived 300 thousand years ago, there were bonfires and traces of soot. Perhaps they could use fire despite their small skulls and brains one-third the size of ours.

In South Africa, not far from Johannesburg, there is a network of limestone caves that were inhabited by our distant ancestors and relatives.

It was here that Australopithecus remains were found about a hundred years ago, and in 2013 another human species, Homo naledi , was discovered.

Due to the difficulties of dating, their age is estimated in the range from 236 thousand to 335 thousand years ago.

The anatomy of H. naledi combined primitive and progressive features; we can say that they occupied an intermediate position between Australopithecus and “full” people.

In particular, their brain volume was 2.5-3 times smaller than that of H. sapiens , only about 500 cm 3 . And the debate about what he was capable of continues.

In particular, it is not clear whether these people used tools and whether they buried the dead: the evidence for this is not very reliable.

Now the use of fire has been added to this list. This was told by the discoverer and lead researcher of H. naledi , Lee Berger.

A professor at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand delivered a lecture to guests at the Carnegie Institute of Science in Washington, according to ScienceNews . “In the cave, traces of fire are visible everywhere,” Berger said.

The “taming” of fire has been dated back to at least 400,000 years ago, although the recent discovery of traces of fried fish could push that date much further, to 780,000 years ago.

However, there are serious doubts about the ability of H. naledi in this respect. Judging by their badly damaged teeth, their diet was based on hard, fibrous tubers, which they did not think to wash. Could these people with very small brains use fire?

A new survey of the Rising Star Cave was conducted last year, where the remains of H. naledi were found, Lee Berger said.

There, behind a layer of stalactites that had grown over hundreds of thousands of years, scientists noticed traces of soot, as well as dots that could leave soot particles.

And in the next chamber, traces of two small fires and charred animal bones lying nearby were found.

Such findings may indeed indicate that H. naledi knew fire. However, they do not clearly confirm this.

First of all, scientists will have to date the traces of soot and fire, showing that they were not left by some later guests of the same ancient cave.

Not without reason, Lee Berger only announced the discovery in a lecture (which can be viewed in its entirety online), and did not present it as a scientific article in a peer-reviewed journal.

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