April 26 (UPI) -- Some 7,300 years ago in what's now Spain, humans collected and dried fungi for use as tinder to start fires. It's the earliest evidence of technological use of fungi, according to researchers at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
Archaeologists discovered remains of the novel fire-starting material among the artifacts left behind by the people of la Draga, a Neolithic community located in the Spanish province of Girona.
"Despite the use of fire being well documented, at the la Draga site we had not yet found proof of the materials used to light or transport it," Raquel Piqué, a researcher in the department of prehistory at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, said in a news release.
Researchers, however, discovered evidence of fungi storage at multiple sites. At least two of the fungus samples show signs of being used to start a fire. Archaeologists suggest the fungi were selectively harvested from the surrounding forest and dried for use as tinder.
During their survey of fungus samples, researchers identified several different species: Skeletocutis nivea, Coriolopsis gallica, Daedalea quercina, Daldinia concentrica, Ganoderma adspersum and Lenzites warnieri.
"Being able to recover these remains is extraordinary, given that their conservation as archaeological material is very difficult due to their easiness to decompose," university researcher Antoni Palomo said.
The collected species -- described this week in the journal PLOS One -- are known as "tinder fungi" because they're inedible and best used to catch the sparks created when two rocks are struck together.
Similar fungus artifacts have been recovered elsewhere in Europe, but none as old as those found at la Draga.
Situated on the shore of Lake Banyoles, the Neolithic site of la Draga is believed to be one of the earliest farming societies to form on the Iberian Peninsula. In addition to adopting agricultural and livestock practices, the people of la Draga built a variety of structures out of wood and other organic materials.