JERUSALEM, Feb. 9 -- Researchers in Israel have unearthed the world's most ancient bonfire, dating back 300,000 years ago, as well as the oldest remains of cooked meat to have been discovered until now.
A dig in the cave of Qesem, near Rosh Ha'ayin in central Israel, has brought to light what archaeologists believe is the oldest barbecue that had been in continuous use. The discovery is part of the ongoing excavation at the cave, which began in the year 2000 to study the remains found at the site.
The findings in the cave have been recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
"People have been living here since 400,000 years ago, and their garbage, which is our treasure, is what made them leave the site. It just became a dump," Ran Barkai, who co-leads the excavation with Avi Gopher from Tel Aviv University, told Xinhua.
The dwelling had been kept from intruders for thousands of years after most of the cave collapsed, while the prehistoric garbage had almost sealed the entrance, leaving the cave almost as it was the last time it was used, according to the archaeologist.
"After so many years of unearthing remains of these people, we have found a perfect bonfire. It looks as if it had been used yesterday. It has remains of ashes and there are hundreds of thousands of little burnt bones all over the cave, which shows that they ate big quantities of meat," Barkai said.
Researchers have yet to define the kind of prehistoric men that lived in the cave, but they are sure they came after homo erectus and were not modern men, homo sapiens, or Neanderthals.
So far, the only human remains that have been found on the site are eleven teeth, which researchers said, are not enough to determine what kind of hominids they were.
The importance of the discovery is not only the bonfire, but the myriad of burnt bones found around it.
"We have found the oldest proof of the use of fire to cook meat, around 400,000 years ago. The actual bonfire we discovered is 300,000 years old, but we know that there were other fires being used before, as the bones that we found prove," Barkai said.
Deers were these hominids' favorite food, the researcher said, adding they would also roast other small animals in the area.
"We can't say exactly how many people lived in these dwellings and for how long, but I would estimate that at any given time, the tribe members would be between 20 and 25 over a period of 200,000 years. I can tell you that this bonfire was also used to light the center of the cave and was also a gathering point for the whole tribe," he said.