Neanderthal fire

Neanderthals used manganese dioxide to make fire

Evidence points to the fact that Neanderthals used manganese dioxide, today commonly found in batteries, to light fires some 50,000 years ago.

Neanderthal fire

Illustration by Zdenek Burian, 1958

The findings were made by researchers in the famous  Pech-de-l’Azé I in South Western France, where Neanderthals congregated for many generations. In these caves, researchers found small black ‘blocs‘ — chunks of manganese oxides  —  which the Neanderthals used as pigments for paintings, body decorations and maybe even for symbolic expression. The team from Leiden University and Delft University of Technology reckoned however that if it was black pigments they need for decoration, soot and charcol should have been enough. These are readily available all the time because the Neanderthals knew how to build fires.

Manganese dioxide blocs from Pech de l’Azé (France), both unmodified (b and d) and abraded (a and c). Image by Peter Heyes

Manganese dioxide blocs from Pech de l’Azé (France), both unmodified (b and d) and abraded (a and c). Image by Peter Heyes

The team propose an alternative hypothesis: these manganese blocs were primarily used to start fires.  Statistically designed combustion experiments and thermo-gravimetric (TGA) measurements demonstrate that manganese dioxide reduces wood’s auto-ignition temperature and substantially increases the rate of char combustion. Furthermore, fire places and the grinding of manganese dioxide blocs to powder found at the location supports this line of thought.

“We don’t know how Neanderthals made fire but given their skills with lithics, we might start with an assumption they used sparks and tinder,” study author Peter Heyes, a researcher at Leiden University, said in a press release. “We don’t bring it out particularly in the paper but manganese dioxide added to wood shavings or other tinder increases the efficiency with which the tinder captures a spark and lights.”

If true, then these findings provide a fresh new look into the cognitive abilities of Neanderthals. Complex use and altering of the environment is definitely a mark of ingineousity.

“Finding evidence to support a view on Neanderthal management of wood fuel resources is a very remote possibility,” Heyes added. “It could nevertheless have been an important aspect of subsistence. If Neanderthals could devote time and resources to collecting manganese dioxide for fire making, it is perhaps not unreasonable to assume they could manage wood fuel resources effectively.”

Findings appeared in the journal Nature.

5 thoughts on “Neanderthals used manganese dioxide to make fire

  1. Jay Reily

    A youtube channel creator that goes by boggycreekbeast has used Manganese dioxide to create fire using a primitive fire method he calls the Rudiger Roll

  2. Pingback: Gene mutation helped early humans cope with smoke infested caves, but not Neanderthals – ZME Science | SilentMajority.News

  3. Sissiboo Smith

    Yet another racist depiction of the enormously successful Neanderthals and their lives. The graphic is despicable. These people were not the dumb brutes depicted. They wore clothes, had music and tender funeral rites. They had a wide ranging diet and wonderful hunting skills. They survived over one hundred thousand years, (something we have not yet achieved). These people were very good chemists, making great glues from common materials. In their long tenure they likely evolved and lost many cultures. We will never know how great they might have been, but it should be noted their intellectual capacity was excellent and their brains were larger than ours. They were visually very acute. They were very robust and passed on a lot of survival genes to us. I'd be interested to know how much disease from modern man played a part in their demise. Please do a better job and leave the racism behind.

  4. Pingback: Neanderthal and modern humans shared long childhoods | newspaper

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