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Man-Made Fire: 1 Million Years Old?

(New research suggests man-made fire could be twice-as old as previously thought; human ancestors could have built fires as long as 1 million years ago. Kosovar casual laborers try to keep themselves warm in Pristina on December 20, 2009.)

Photo by Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images

Could man-made fire be 1 million-years-old?

A new study suggests man’s controlled use of flame may have been sparked more than twice as far back as we previously believed.

Ash and charred bone samples found in South Africa’s Wonderwerk Cave, where some of our Homo erectus ancestors apparently stayed, point to an early use of the element. Scientists don’t yet know if the fire was used for cooking, necessarily; bones at the site may have just been tossed into the flames. And the lack of evidence of a hearth or a deep fire pit has some scientists on the fence about whether the findings could merely point to a wildfire that blew into the ancient dwelling.

But the traces were found 100 feet beyond the cave entrance, and alongside similar findings from a separate site nearby, they could mean some fire starters have been staying toasty for even longer.

Video produced by Jim Festante