Scientists discover link between Neanderthals and fire creation

Reconstruction of a Neanderthal in the useum fur Naturkunde in Berlin, Germany (Photo: כ.אלון/Wikimedia Commons). (Reconstruction of a Neanderthal in the useum fur Naturkunde in Berlin, Germany (Photo: כ.אלון/Wikimedia Commons))

A team of researchers from Leiden and Delft believe they solved the mystery of weird scraped off stones sometimes found in Neanderthal camps. The little stones, about the size of dice and consisting of manganese or manganese dioxide, were used as firelighters, the team led by Leiden archaeologists Marie Soressi and Peter Heyes believe, the Volkskrant reports.

Soressi calls the discovery "very surprising". This is the rediscovery of lost knowledge", she said to the newspaper. The fact that traditional, present-day cultures do not use the method, makes the discovery even more special. Because it means that Neanderthals possessed a technique that future primitive peoples did not figure out.

The archaeologist believes that the Neanderthals scraped some of the stone off, sprinkled it over the wood and then made fire by rubbing pieces of wood together. But it can also be that they stone dust was sprinkled over the wood, and sparks were created by hitting two stones together.

The Dutch scientists discovered the stone's firelighter properties when Heyes made a fire with it. A video of the process clearly showed that using the powder speeds up the fire making process significantly. Temperature measurements by TU Delft confirmed that the powder lowers wood's ignition temperature from around 350 degrees to around 250 degrees.

For the experiment, the Delft-Leiden scientists used stones from the Pech de L'Aze - a 50 thousand year old Neanderthal site in Dordogne. But similar stones have also been found in several excavation spots.