21 – Evidence for fire use

1.5 million years ago

There is evidence for sporadic use of fire earlier in the archaeological record with preserved burned sediments back to around 1.5 million years ago. Early fire use may have been from lightning strikes. It is not until 800,000 years ago that we see controlled use of fire with stone hearths. Fire would have been used for warmth, light, protection from predators, and the ability to cook food. While the consumption of meat was a critical adaptation for hominin evolution, another vital step in the dietary expansion of hominins was the controlled use of fire for cooking, which did not occur until 120,000 years ago. Cooking foods allows for easier processing and the increased bioavailability of nutrients, in addition to the benefits of cooking meat to kill pathogens.

This image is from a cave site at Pinnacle Point, South Africa, which has evidence for use and artifacts dating from 260,000 to 50,000 years ago. Evidence for the use of fire can be seen in the dark deposits between the sediment layers. Image credit SACP4.


    Pleistocene2.58 million to 11,700 years ago

Environmental and Climate Changes

  • Pleistocene glaciation 2.5 Ma
  • Earth’s climate remains relatively stable with alternating glacial and interglacial periods

Changing Species