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Press Release 09-152
Early Fire Use Ignites Discussion about the Evolution of Human Brainpower

Researcher talks about discovery of controlled fire use in Africa

Photo of tools created by the experimental use of fire-treated silcrete blocks.

Tools created by the experimental use of fire-treated silcrete blocks.
Credit and Larger Version

August 13, 2009

Watch an interview with paleoanthropologist Curtis Marean.

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 and Kyle Brown, both paleoanthropologists 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.

The journal Science reports the finding in its Aug. 14 issue. The National Science Foundation supports the research.

Read more in the Arizona State University press release at http://asunews.asu.edu/20090813_ancienttoolmakers.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Bobbie Mixon, NSF, (703) 292-8070, bmixon@nsf.gov
Carol Hughes, Arizona State University, (480) 965-6375, carol.hughes@asu.edu

Program Contacts
Elizabeth Tran, NSF, (703) 292-5338, etran@nsf.gov

Principal Investigators
Curtis Marean, Arizona State University, (480) 965-2718, curtis.marean@asu.edu

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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Curtis Marean talks about the discovery of fired and flaked stone tools in southern Africa.
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Curtis Marean talks about the discovery of fired and flaked stone tools in southern Africa.
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Photo showing the before and after view of silcrete rock heated with fire to make a stone tool.
Before and after view of silcrete rock heated with fire to make a stone tool.
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Photo showing the Pinnacle Point sieving area.
Pinnacle Point sieving area.
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Map showing the geography of Pinnacle Point, Mossel Bay along the South African coast.
Geography of Pinnacle Point, Mossel Bay along the South African coast.
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Aug. 14 cover of the journal Science.
Science reports evidence that early modern humans used fire to create stone tools.
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