Zhoukoudian Fire

Glenn R. Morton (grmorton@waymark.net)
Sat, 11 Jul 1998 07:16:44 -0500

There is a study out that disputes the use of fire at Zhou Kou Dian,
Beijing. All I have seen is press reports such as:


I am eager to see the original report. The reason is, that I find what I
see in the press accounts unconvincing at the moment. The anthropological
literature is full of things like:

"The Zhoukoudian caves show evidence of two major cultural adaptations of
H. erectus--fire and hunting. there are large hearths in the caves, some
with ash as deep as 7 ft. Fire was important in the northern environments
for warmth, light, and chasing off predators." ~ John H. Relethford,
Fundamentals of Biological Anthropology, (Toronto: Mayfield Publishing Co.,
1994), p. 271

The original excavation was in the 20's and there is definite evidence of
burned bones. I would be curious if the authors examined the sediments
left from the 1920's excavation or are now examining another part of the cave.

Some of these press reports also say that excluding Zhoukoudian means that
there is no evidence of fire prior to 300,000 years. This is pure bunk.
This is on the web:

Earliest evidence of human use of fire dates to about 1,600,000 years
ago in Africa
Archaeological evidence
Chesowanja, Kenya
ash deposits
hearth-like arrangement of stones
1,600,000 years old
Swartkrans, South Africa
ash deposits
1,600,000 years old
suggestion of fire about 1,400,000 years ago
suggestion of fire about 1,200,000 years ago

From:John Scarry - John_Scarry@ncsu.edu
Revised - February 28, 1998

Bilzingsleben Germany: 400,000 years ago,

At Bilzingsleben each hut opened to the south had a hearth in front of the
door See Figure 5 ~ D. Mania and U. Mania, "Latest Finds of Skull Remains
of Homo erectus from Bilzingsleben (Thuringia)" Naturwissenschaften,
81(1994):123-127, p. 127

"Sites with certain or possible fire evidence are shown on this chart:
dating evidence as well as the small number of sites limits our

1. Olorgesailie 375,00-460,000
2. Gadeb 1,125,000-1,200,000
3. Karari 1,375,000-1,460,000
4. Chesowanja 1,375,000-1,460,000
5. Zhoukoudian 450,000- 550,000
6. Yuanmou 1,210,000-1,300,000
7. l'Escale 450,000- 550,000
8. Terra Amata 300,000- 375,000
9. Vertesszollos 166,000- 250,000
~ John A. J. Gowlett, Ascent to Civilization, (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.
1993), p. 56


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