Wonderwerk Cave has been confirmed in South Africa to be the oldest inhabited cave in the world, with the first evidence of fire or tool-making being used.
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It is the summary of new research published in Quaternary Science Reviews, led by a team of geologists and archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) and the University of Toronto.
“We can now say with confidence that our human ancestors were making simple stone tools inside Wonderwerk Cave 1.8 million years ago. Wonderwerk is unique among the ancient sites of Olduvayense, a kind of tool that was first found 2.6 million years ago in East Africa,” This is precisely because lead author Professor Ron Shar of the H Institute of Geosciences said, “It is a cave, not an open-air event.”
The team succeeded in creating the shift from Olduvayan tools (mainly sharpboards and cutting tools) to manual axes over a million years ago, and the history of the intentional use of fire by our prehistoric ancestors to a million years ago. In a mantle deep in the cave.
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The latter is particularly important because other examples of early use of fires come from outdoor locations where the potential role of forest fires cannot be ruled out. Additionally, Wonderwerk contained a whole bunch of fire remnants: burnt bones, sludge, tools, as well as the presence of ash.
The dating of cave deposits is one of the biggest challenges in ancient anthropology, also known as the study of human evolution. To overcome this challenge, the team analyzed a 2.5-meter-thick sedimentary layer containing stone tools, animal remains, and fire remnants using two methods: paleomagnetism and burial dating.
Shaer described: “We carefully removed hundreds of small sediment samples from the walls of the caves and measured their magnetic signals.”
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Magnetization occurred when the clay particles, which entered the cave from the outside, settled on the floor of a prehistoric cave, thus preserving the orientation of the Earth’s magnetic field at that time.
“Our laboratory analysis showed that some samples were magnetized to the south instead of north, which is the direction of the current magnetic field. Since the precise timing of these magnetic ‘reflections’ is universally recognized, it gave us clues about antiquity from the entire stratigraphic sequence in the cave.”
Professor Ari Matton, Director of the Heliopolis University Institute of Geosciences, relied on a secondary dating method to further emphasize the time when early human ancestors may have occupied the site.
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“The quartz particles in the sand contain a built-in geological clock that begins to appear when they enter the cave. In our lab, we can measure the concentrations of specific isotopes in those particles and deduce how long those grains of sand have entered. Into the cave.”
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