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Evidence from the Swartkrans cave for the earliest use of fire

Nature volume 336, pages 464466 (01 December 1988) | Download Citation



During recent excavations of hominid-bearing breccias in the Swartkrans cave altered bones were recovered from Member 3 (about 1.0–1.5 Myr BP) which seemed to have been burnt. We examined the histology and chemistry of these specimens and found that they had been heated to a range of temperatures consistent with that occurring in campfires. The presence of these burnt bones, together with their distribution in the cave, is the earliest direct evidence for use of fire by hominids in the fossil record. Although abundant remains of Australopithecus robustus and Homo cf. erectus are found in the older Members 1 and 2 at Swartkrans, there is no evidence of fire, suggesting that the discovery of fire was made in the interval between Members 2 and 3 and before A. robustus became extinct.

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  1. Transvaal Museum, PO Box 413, Pretoria 0001, South Africa

    • C. K. Brain
  2. Department of Archaeology, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7700, South Africa

    • A. Sillent


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