Fire for a Reason: Barbecue at Middle Pleistocene Qesem Cave, Israel

Ran Barkai
Jordi Rosell
Ruth Blasco

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Qesem Cave is a Middle Pleistocene site in Israel occupied between 420 and 200 ka. Excavations have revealed a wealth of innovative behaviors most likely practiced by a new hominin lineage. These include early evidence for the habitual and continuous use of fire, the repeated use of a central hearth, systematic flint and bone recycling, early blade production technologies, social hunting strategies and meat-sharing practices, and more. Fire was used throughout the 200,000 years of human occupation of the cave primarily for meat roasting and cooking. Roasting and cooking, we argue, had an important role in providing the necessary caloric intake of the cave’s inhabitants. We see fire as an essential element of the new post-Acheulian human adaptation in the Levant. The ample recurring evidence for focused and repeated use of fire for dietary purposes suggests that fire production, control, use, and maintenance were habitually practiced by the cave’s inhabitants and that fire-induced calories became central for their survival. We present an integrative view regarding the use of fire at Qesem Cave and discuss the role of fire within the framework of the significant cultural and biological transformations that took shape in the post-Acheulian Levant during the Middle Pleistocene.