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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"On the earliest evidence for habitual use of fire in Europe" by Wil Roebroeks & Paola Villa, PNAS, 2011

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online before print March 14, 2011, doi:10.1073/pnas.1018116108; (March 29, 2011) Vol. 108, No. 13, 5209-5214.

On the earliest evidence for habitual use of fire in Europe

  1. Wil Roebroeks and 
  2. Paola Villa
  1. aFaculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, 2300 RA, Leiden, The Netherlands;
  2. bUniversity of Colorado Museum, Boulder, CO 80309-0265;
  3. cUnité Mixte de Recherche 5199, de la Préhistoire á l’Actuel: Culture, Environnement, et Anthropologie, Institut de Préhistoire et Géologie du Quaternaire, 33405 Talence, France; and
  4. dSchool of Geography, Archaeology, and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits 2050 Johannesburg, South Africa
  1. Edited* by Erik Trinkaus, Washington University, St. Louis, MO, and approved February 8, 2011 (received for review December 4, 2010)


The timing of the human control of fire is a hotly debated issue, with claims for regular fire use by early hominins in Africa at ∼1.6 million y ago. These claims are not uncontested, but most archaeologists would agree that the colonization of areas outside Africa, especially of regions such as Europe where temperatures at time dropped below freezing, was indeed tied to the use of fire. Our review of the European evidence suggests that early hominins moved into northern latitudeswithout the habitual use of fire. It was only much later, from ∼300,000 to 400,000 y ago onward, that fire became a significant part of the hominin technological repertoire. It is also from the second half of the Middle Pleistocene onward that we can observe spectacular cases of Neandertal pyrotechnological knowledge in the production of hafting materials. The increase in the number of sites with good evidence of fire throughout the Late Pleistocene shows that European Neandertals had fire management not unlike that documented for Upper Paleolithic groups.

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