Indeed, the ability to conjure flame still seems borderline magical to me – so imagine what the capacity to start a fire from scratch must have meant to early humans.
At some point, our ancestors harnessed the power of the flame to keep warm, cook food, produce new materials, shoo away predators and illuminate dark caves.
Archaeological evidence suggests hominins of various types were using fire as far back as 1.5 million years ago, but no one really knows how they acquired that fire.
This paradigm-shifting ability – to both intentionally start and control fire – is known as pyrotechnology, and it’s traditionally thought to be the exclusive domain of our species, Homo sapiens.
But as new evidence presented this week in Scientific Reports suggests, Neanderthals did possess the capacity to start their own fires.
That said, competing evidence from France has linked Neanderthal fire use to warmer periods, when forests are dense with flammable material and when the odds of lightning strikes are higher – important factors for determining the likelihood of wildfires.