Boulder, Colo. (UPI) Mar 15, 2011
U.S. researchers say evidence shows Neanderthals in Europe achieved continuous control of fire as far back as 400,000 years ago.
Scientists from the University of Colorado, Boulder, say the study of scores of ancient archaeological research sites in Europe shows convincing evidence of long-term fire control by Neanderthals, suggesting they weren't the dim-witted "cousins" of modern humans as often portrayed, a university release said Tuesday.
"Until now, many scientists have thought Neanderthals had some fires but did not have continuous use of fire," Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, said. "We were not expecting to find a record of so many Neanderthal sites exhibiting such good evidence of the sustained use of fire over time."
Neanderthals, thought to have evolved in Europe roughly 400,000 to 500,000 years ago and extinct by about 30,000 years ago, were stockier than anatomically modern humans but there is evidence that contemporary humans carry a small amount of Neanderthal DNA, researchers say.
Archaeologists consider the control of fire, along with the emergence stone tool manufacturing, as the two hallmark events in the technological evolution of early humans.
Evidence for the sustained use of fire at Neanderthal sites includes the presence of charcoal, heated stone artifacts, burned bones, heated sediments and hearths. Sites with two or more of the characteristics were interpreted as solid evidence for the control of fire by the inhabitants, the researchers said.
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