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300,000 year old barbecue found in Israel

The ancient hearth suggests humans would congregate to cook meats and use the cave as a place to socialize.

By Ananth Baliga
300,000 year old barbecue found in Israel
The cave during excavation with the arrow pointing to the hearth. (Credit: Weizmann Institute)

TEL AVIV, Israel, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- A 300,000 year old hearth unearthed in the Qesem Cave, near Rosh Ha’ayin, Israel suggests that the use of fire to cook was a communal and social event as well.

Researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science have been collecting samples at the archaeological site since 2000. They found a thick deposits of wood ash in the center of the pit. On analyzing this mixture they found bone and soil deposits that had been heated to high temperature mixed in with the ash, providing sufficient proof that the site was used as one large barbecue to cook meats.

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Around the hearth they found numerous flint tools possibly used to cut meat and a large number of burnt animal bones, confirming the area's use for grilling meat. The hearth also showed signs of different areas designated for household activities, suggesting that it was used multiple times and had social and domestic utility.

“These findings help us to fix an important turning point in the development of human culture -- that in which humans first began to regularly use fire both for cooking meat and as a focal point -- a sort of campfire -- for social gatherings,” said Dr. Ruth Shahack-Gross of the Weizmann Institute.

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Experts believe ancient humans discovered fire around a million years ago. But these findings, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, suggest that around 300,000 years ago a substantial change occurred in human behavior -- moving towards the controlled use of fire and development of a social hierarchy.

[Weizmann Institute of Science] [Journal of Archaeological Science]

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