According to an ancient archeology study, early humans had a high cognitive ability. The researchers developed a software-based smoke dispersion simulation model and applied it to a prehistoric cave site. Surprisingly, they discovered that the first humans to occupy the cave had placed their fireplace in the optimal position. That is, allowing maximum use of the flame and dispersion of the smoke to minimize exposure to smoke. The use of fire by ancient people has been a controversial topic of discussion for many years.
Did the ancients know how to optimize the fireplace?
The question is, have human beings learned to control fire, burning according to their will? When did they start using it every day? Do they use the space inside the cave effectively in regards to the fire? When modern humans were able to do all these things, could ancient humans do it?
Yafit Kedar: “One focal issue in the debate is the location of hearths in caves occupied by early humans for long periods of time. Multilayered hearths have been found in many caves, indicating that fires had been lit at the same spot over many years. In previous studies, using a software-based model of air circulation in caves, along with a simulator of smoke dispersal in a closed space, we found that the optimal location for minimal smoke exposure in the winter was at the back of the cave. The least favorable location was the cave’s entrance.”
Looking for the answer
Scientists have tried the method of dispersing smoke in caves. According to Mr. Yafit Kedar: “Putting the fireplace at the back of the cave will reduce the smoke density to a minimum, allowing the smoke to flow out of the cave right next to the ceiling. But in the archaeological layers that we have checked. The fireplace is located in the center of the cave We tried to understand why the occupants chose this location and whether smoke dispersion was considered significantly in the spatial division of the cave. caves into active zones or not.”
To answer this question, the scientists experimented with placing a fire in the middle of a cave to see how the smoke dispersed. The test took place in 16 hypothetical fireplace locations inside the 290 square meter cave. They analyzed the smoke density in the entire cave using thousands of simulated sensors placed 50cm from the floor to a height of 1.5m.
Early ancient humans needed a balance – a fireplace near them could work, cook, eat, sleep, gather together, keep warm, and more. and must be exposed to a minimal amount of smoke. In the end, when all needs were considered – daily activities and smoke exposure damage – the occupants placed their fireplaces in the optimal location in the cave.
Research shows that a 25 square meter area in the cave is the optimal place to locate the fireplace in order to enjoy its benefits while avoiding overexposure to the smoke. Surprisingly, in the caves examined in this study, the first ancient people did indeed place their fireplaces in this area.
Prof. Barkai concludes: “Our study shows that early humans were able, with no sensors or simulators, to choose the perfect location for their hearth and manage the cave’s space as early as 170,000 years ago — long before the advent of modern humans in Europe. This ability reflects ingenuity, experience, and planned action, as well as awareness of the health damage caused by smoke exposure. In addition, the simulation model we developed can assist archaeologists excavating new sites, enabling them to look for hearths and activity areas at their optimal locations.”