A New Study Has Shown The Oldest Hand Axe, And Remains Of A Fire In Europe Date Back Over 800,000 Years Ago

The hand axe and remnants of a fire were discovered hidden in a rock shelter in the southeastern region of Spain.

The oldest known hand axe and fire dating back 800,000 years have been found in Spain.
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty Images

The hand axe and remnants of a fire were discovered hidden in a rock shelter in the southeastern region of Spain.

In the southeastern region of Spain, at Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar, archaeologists have discovered the oldest stone hand axe, along with the creation of the oldest fire known in Europe, which date back to over 800,000 years ago.

After conducting biochronological analysis on the teeth of a mammal that were found near the special Acheulean hand axe, and the location of the fire hidden in the rock shelter, it was determined that the site would have been in use between 810,000 to 865,000 years ago, as Popular Archaeology report.

Murcia University’s Michael Walker explained that up until now, there have been no hand axes found in Europe that are older than 500,000-years-old.

“Arguably, until now hand axes in Europe have not been recorded from before 500,000 years ago.”

Further, “The evidence of combustion is also the oldest anywhere outside Africa.”

While archaeologists are currently unclear about what type of human would have taken refuge by the fire in the shelter, the consensus is that they were most likely of the pre-Neanderthal variety, and could either be Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, or Homo antecessor.

While the odds may appear to be stacked in favor of the humans being part of the Homo erectus species because of the specific Acheulean hand axe that was found, this alone is not enough proof to show that this was necessarily the case.

The rock shelter was first discovered by the Quipar River in 1981, but it wasn’t until 1990 that real archaeological excavation began at the site. After the removal of five meters of sediment, archaeologists discovered remains from the late Pleistocene era, which included human teeth, along with enough organic materials to deduce that this area would have been both moist and extremely warm when the human occupants resided in the region.

When it comes to evidence of fire inside the rock shelter, the study is quick to point out that the discovery of combustion does not necessarily mean that the humans here at the time were actually able to control the fire, as would be the case if it had been a hearth.

“A fire-place is not a hearth. The Cueva Negra could have brought glowing brands left by a forest fire into the cave to establish and tend a fire where rain and wind would not put it out. They may well have been less afraid of fire outside than other animals they saw fleeing from it. This does not mean they could reproduce or control fire: there is a dearth of archaeological evidence for hearths or fire-pits before 0.5 Ma.”

The new study detailing the discovery of the over 800,000-year-old remains of a hand axe and fire found in the rock shelter in Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar, Spain, can be read in Historical Biology.