Project Details


Sarah Hlubik of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, will undertake a research project to investigate when human ancestors first began using fire on a regular basis. This study addresses a crucial topic in understanding the evolution of the genus Homo. The physical changes from Australopithecus/early Homo to Homo erectus are striking, with Homo erectus being larger bodied and with a more slender trunk, indicating a change in the digestive system. This change can be explained by the regular use of fire to help prepare food. For over a decade researchers have argued this point, but there are no archaeological instances of fire in the record with the appearance of H. erectus. This study will assess the claim that the earliest fire in the record dates back to at least 1.5 million years ago (mya) through a vigorous research schedule that includes excavation and experimentation to determine the signature of fire and its longevity on the landscape.This project explores the ways in which fire can be identified in the ancient archaeological record of open-air sites. It is based heavily on excavation, sampling, and comparison to experimental work to look at the signature of fire on the landscape and in cultural contexts, and whether it can be identified and detected in sites greater than 1 million years. The work primarily takes place in Northern Kenya.. The site of FxJj20 AB is a known site, which has so far yielded several thousand artifacts and fossil bone, and contains some suggestive evidence for the presence of fire. The site is located on floodplain sediments, with little evidence of artifact movement by water or wind, which makes it a good candidate to answer the question of whether or not fire was present and whether or not fire was maintained and controlled by the human ancestors who created the site. Excavation is conducted with small tools, enabling the recovery of all materials in their original position. Artifacts and bone are examined for possible indications of burning. Sampled materials include sedimentary columns, and loose sediment, stone, and bone samples for investigation using a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FTIR), which are compared with experimentally produced samples to determine whether the materials on site have been burned. Sedimentary columns are also examined through petrographic thin-sectioning to determine the specific history of the site after its creation.
Effective start/end date2/1/151/31/16


  • National Science Foundation (National Science Foundation (NSF))


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