Feeds

ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. - Humans begin artificial CO2 emissions

'Could be an essential part of what makes us human'

Boost IT visibility and business value

Fossil-furtling boffins have announced that the human race was burning things - and irresponsibly releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - fully a million years ago, some 300,000 years earlier than had been thought.

"Human ancestors as early as Homo erectus may have begun using fire as part of their way of life," enthuses anthropologist Michael Chazan, co-leader of a team which discovered unfeasibly ancient traces of wood ash at the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa.

The massive Wonderwerk is located near the edge of the Kalahari desert, and was already known to the boffinry community as having been extensively occupied by prehistoric humans and pre-humans. Fresh sampling and analysis of sediments from the cave revealed plant ashes and burned bone fragments, both of which - according to the scientists - appear to have been burned on site rather than washed or blown into the cave. The researchers also found surface discolorations which they say indicate burning.

"The control of fire would have been a major turning point in human evolution," says Chazan. "The impact of cooking food is well documented, but the impact of control over fire would have touched all elements of human society. Socializing around a camp fire might actually be an essential aspect of what makes us human."

Chazan and his colleagues' research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ®

Bootnote

For most of prehistory, our natural human penchant for burning things didn't have a major impact as there were not that many people about and the plants we burned would tend to be replaced by others, so drawing the emitted CO2 back out of the atmosphere. But then tools and farming came along, where we would cut down (and then burn or decompose) carbon-dense forests and replace them with comparatively minimalist crops or grazing (and then sometimes with accidental dust bowls, deserts etc).

Funnily enough it was at around this point that prehistory ended as very small numbers among the human race acquired enough spare time and resources to start writing things down. Occasionally there were hints that we might start burning things not just for heat or to get rid of them but to generate other forms of energy - but usually these very disturbing and dangerous ideas went away, and generally to get these other forms of energy we would use windmills or water wheels, or muscle power.

Then, disaster, as annoying British people worked out ways to turn burning fuel into useful energy wholesale. We had already started digging up fossilised plants to supplement our supplies of ordinary trees etc, and this trend accelerated hugely. In just a couple of hundred years, significant sections of the human race have acquired enough spare time and resources that just about everyone - not just the wealthy and specialist classes - can write things down and read them.

Many people feel that reading, writing, and other such non-food-gathering, energy-related activities are a big part of what make us human - like socialising round the old camp fire. However all this has led to a lot more CO2 being emitted, which some say means we should go back to windmills and waterwheels: though nobody is openly advocating a return to universal mass illiteracy.

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Flamewars in SPAAACE: cooler fires hint at energy efficiency
Experiment aboard ISS shows we should all chill out for cleaner engines
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.