The Neanderthals did not depend on natural wildfires or lightning strikes to start flames thousands of year ago.
Findings of a new study have revealed that these early human relatives could start their own fires.
Neanderthals Produced Fire On Demand
In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, archaeologist Andrew Sorensen, from Leiden University in the Netherlands, and colleagues presented evidence that the Neanderthals may have produced fires on demand.
They did this by striking a small piece of a pyrite against flint hand axes, which are prehistoric stone tools also known as biface. The researchers also said that the practice of intentionally producing fire is widespread.
Evidence From Microscopic Wear On Bifaces
The researchers discovered microscopic wear on bifaces from the era of the Neanderthals that they recognized as traces produce when sparks are generated by striking a piece of flint against a pyrite.
The researchers then studied dozens of hand axes from various sites that were about 50,000 years old and found the same distinctive wear on all of these tools.
The researchers used advanced imaging tools in the laboratory to get a more detailed look at these unique microscopic signatures. The images revealed C-shaped indentations and parallel scratches, which are signatures of the type of rock-striking used to produce sparks.
"Both the locations and nature of the polish and associated striations are comparable to those obtained experimentally by obliquely percussing fragments of pyrite (FeS2) against the flat/convex sides of a biface to make fire," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published on July 19.
Sorensen said this provides evidence that the Neanderthals were able to make fire on a large scale, and this has important implications.
"That they figured out bashing two rocks together could produce a brand new substance (fire) completely unlike the parent materials gives us new insight into the cognitive skills of Neanderthals," Sorensen said. "It shows Neandertals possessed similar technological capabilities to modern humans, even though they sometimes behaved differently."
How The Neanderthals Used Fire
Evidence from discarded hand axes and flints show that the Neanderthals were able to make fire. In 2015, scientists reported that Neanderthal fires even caused ancient pollution.
The researchers said that the ability to produce fire provided the Neanderthals with much more flexibility in their lives. They possibly used the heat of the fire to cook meat and prevent food spoilage in warm months. They may have also hardened their wood tools in flames.