Early fire use ignites discussion about the evolution of human brainpower

August 13, 2009

New evidence that early modern humans used fire in southern Africa in a controlled way to increase the quality and efficiency of stone tools is changing how researchers understand the evolution of human behavior, and in particular, the evolution of human brain power.

Curtis Marean, a paleoanthropologist with the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, and an international team of researchers with members from South Africa, England, Australia and France found 72,000-year-old, silcrete rocks that had been fired and flaked to make stone tools in a cave along the coast of the southern tip of Africa in Mossel Bay.

The finding indicates that humans' ability to solve complex problems may have occurred at the same time their modern genetic lineage appeared, rather than developing later as has been widely speculated.
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The journal Science reports the finding in its Aug. 14 issue. The National Science Foundation supports the research.Watch an interview with paleoanthropologist Curtis Marean here:

http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_videos.jsp?cntn_id=115415&media_id=65507&org=NSF

National Science Foundation

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