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Neanderthals started fires with Mn compound?

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File:Homo neanderthalensis adult male - head model - Smithsonian Museum of Natural History - 2012-05-17.jpg
Neanderthal 70-80 kya/Tim Evanson, John Gurche

From Lizzie Wade at Science:

Archaeologists have long known that Neandertals… used fire, but they could have merely taken advantage of naturally occurring lightning strikes and forest fires to supply the flames.

Out of interest, how practical would that be? The point of using fire is to have it handy. No cultural practice could have grown up from relying on occasional accidents and infrequent disasters.

That would be like waiting for prey animals to drop dead of heart attacks instead of killing them.

Excavations at the 50,000-year-old site Pech-de-l’Azé I in southwestern France have yielded blocks of manganese dioxide, which is abundant in the region’s limestone formations.

It has been thought that the compound was used to make body paint, but it turns out that Neandertals preferred a particular type of manganese dioxide and…

Noticing signs of abrasion on some of the Pech-de-l’Azé I blocks, the scientists ground up bits of them to produce a powder. When they sprinkled that powder on a pile of wood, it lowered the temperature needed to initiate combustion to 250̊C, making it much easier to start a fire, they report today in Scientific Reports More.

Once they discovered that feature, it seems to have become the product of choice.

Doubtless, it greatly shortens the time spent rubbing sticks together.

See also: Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documents

and

A deep and abiding need for Neanderthals to be stupid. Why?

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