Microstratigraphic evidence of in situ fire in the Acheulean strata of Wonderwerk Cave, Northern Cape province, South Africa

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 May 15;109(20):E1215-20. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1117620109. Epub 2012 Apr 2.


The ability to control fire was a crucial turning point in human evolution, but the question when hominins first developed this ability still remains. Here we show that micromorphological and Fourier transform infrared microspectroscopy (mFTIR) analyses of intact sediments at the site of Wonderwerk Cave, Northern Cape province, South Africa, provide unambiguous evidence--in the form of burned bone and ashed plant remains--that burning took place in the cave during the early Acheulean occupation, approximately 1.0 Ma. To the best of our knowledge, this is the earliest secure evidence for burning in an archaeological context.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthropology
  • Cultural Evolution*
  • Fires / history*
  • Fossils*
  • History, Ancient
  • Hominidae / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Microspectrophotometry
  • South Africa
  • Tool Use Behavior / physiology*