An ancient human relative, Homo naledi, used fire, cave discoveries show

An ancient human relative, Homo naledi, used fire, cave discoveries show
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Explorers traversing the narrow, pitch-black caves of South Africa claim to have discovered evidence that a human relative with a brain only one-third the size of ours used fire for light and cooking several hundred thousand years ago. The unpublished findings, which add new wrinkles to the story of human evolution, have been met with both excitement and skepticism.

Lee Berger, a South African paleoanthropologist and National Geographic explorer, described the discovery of soot-covered walls, pieces of charcoal, burnt antelope bones and rocks in the Rising Star cave system, where the bones of a new member of the team were discovered nine years ago. human family Homo cursed🇧🇷

The control of fire is considered a crucial stage in human evolution, providing light to illuminate dark places, providing nocturnal activity, and leading to cooking food and subsequently increasing body mass. But exactly when the leap occurred has been one of the most controversial questions in all of paleoanthropology.

“We’re probably looking at the culture of another species,” Berger said, bucking scientific convention by reporting the discoveries not in a peer-reviewed journal, but in a press release and Martin Luther King Jr. Carnegie Lecture. Thursday at the Washington Memorial Library. Berger, a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, told The Washington Post in an interview that official documents were being reviewed, adding: “Over the next month, a number of major discoveries will emerge.”

He stressed that his team’s discoveries this summer answered a critical question that arose when the initial trove of 1,500 fossil bones was announced: How did this ancient species find its way into a fiendishly difficult cave system 100 to 130 feet underground. reach and, in his words, “terribly dangerous”?

The research team now believes that H. naledi used small fires throughout the chambers of the cave system to light its way. Berger based his claim in part on his personal journey through the cave’s narrow passages, which required him to lose 55 pounds.

Moreover, he argued that the use of fire by a human relative with a brain slightly larger than a large orange overturns our traditional story of evolution. For years, experts have described evolution as a “ladder” that moves toward species with larger brains and greater intelligence, leaving smaller-brained species to die out.

But evidence has built up evidence that the process may be more complicated than thought, an idea that would be supported if there really was a smaller-brained contemporary of early times. homo sapiens was advanced enough to use fire.

Berger’s lecture, which was accompanied by photos from the cave rather than carbon dating and other traditional scientific methods, drew criticism, as did some of his previous claims about H. naledi fossils.

“There is a long history of claims about the use of fire in South African caves,” said Tim D. White, director of the Center for Research in Human Evolution at the University of California, Berkeley, a former critic of Berger. “Any claim that there was a controlled fire would be met with great skepticism if it came through a press release as opposed to data.”

Past accounts of early human use of fire, even those backed by scientific evidence, have been controversial. In 2012, archaeologists using cutting-edge technology reported that there was “unequivocal evidence in the form of charred bone and charred plant remains” that burning events took place at Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa about 1 million years ago. Critics have questioned this age estimate, and after scientists used a sophisticated technique called cosmogenic nuclide dating, revised the date to at least 900,000 years.

If Berger’s team wants to demonstrate that both come from the same period, serious research will have to date both the fire evidence and the bones of H. naledi, White said. Other studies should show not only the presence of fire, but also its controlled use. The test should determine that the material believed to be soot is in fact soot and that there is no discoloration caused by chemicals or other factors.

Berger acknowledged that one of the main challenges he and his colleagues will face will be getting to grips with the materials they find. So far, H. naledi bones have been dated to between 230,000 and 330,000 years ago, although Berger stressed that these dates should not be seen as the first or last appearance of the species.

He was most skeptical about the absence of stone tools found in the White Caves. He said archaeologists expect to find thousands of stone tools at a site where human relatives used fire for light and cooking.

“I will tell you at this stage that there are no stone tools that we found near the hearth,” Berger said in an interview. “It’s a strange thing.” Nevertheless, he told the audience at a Carnegie Science lecture, “Fires don’t start spontaneously within 250 meters of a wet cave, and animals don’t just walk into the fires and burn.”

According to him, stone tools were found in the general landscape outside the caves. He also countered criticism that the team’s findings were not evidence of an ancient hearth.

“We found dozens of hearts, not just one,” Berger said during an interview when asked about the evidence. “It is 100 percent. There is no doubt. … We’re now entering a phase where it’s going from just bones to a rich understanding of the environment they lived in.”

Berger had previously faced controversy during the initial announcement of the discovery of H. naledi.🇧🇷 when he says that these ancient relatives deliberately used caves to bury their dead. Despite the controversy, Berger reiterated the claim at several points during the lecture, admitting that it “may not have gone over well with most of the academy.”

Other researchers said that while much more testing is still needed, Rising Star’s latest findings are impressive.

“I think it’s great. It seems very plausible,” said Richard W. Wrangham, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University and author of the 2009 book.Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human🇧🇷

“Of course it’s fascinating because of the small and generally mysterious nature of these people.”

Wrangham said that when the discovery of H. naledi was announced, he was discussing the dark caves where the bones were found with one of Berger’s colleagues, and he said, “This must surely mean that they are illuminated.”

However, Wrangham said he was puzzled by one issue: “How did they survive the smoke? Is there a draft blowing smoke out of the cave?’

Wrangham said he was willing to take Berger’s word for the use of gunfire based on the initial evidence. The strongest evidence for the early control of fire, he said, comes from an archaeological site in Israel called Gesher Benot Yaakov, where experts say early human relatives used fire for fire. cooking fish about 780,000 years ago🇧🇷

Berger also shared live images of some of the 50 H. naledi individuals the team encountered during the lecture.

He described the remains of a hand “twisted in the grip of death”; the skull of a child found sitting on a rock shelf; and the skeleton of another child in an alcove in one of the chambers. Dramatic imagery required an equally dramatic journey through the fissure, which narrows to just seven inches in the dolomite, requiring extreme contortion of the explorer’s body.

“You’re basically kissing the ground,” said Keneiloe Molopyane, a 35-year-old researcher at the University of South Africa’s Center for the Study of Deep Human Travel. Explorers, he continued, climb a dangerous ridge about 65 feet above the cave floor. It’s pitch black inside, with bats buzzing on either side of you. If you fall, you belong to the cave.”

The reward, however, is the feeling Molopyane remembers vividly from his first descent into the cave system: “Oh my God. I’m the first person to see these remains after how many thousands of years, I don’t know, I’m touching them now.”

About 150 scientists worldwide are involved in the excavation, history and research efforts of the remains and artifacts found in the Rising Star cave system, Berger said.

Asked to speculate on possible interactions and conflicts between H. naledi and H. sapiens, Berger replied: “Everything you’ve just asked, we’ll have an answer to within the next 36 months.”

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