Scientists have discovered the oldest home in human history and it was in a cave. Located in South Africa’s Kalahari Desert is the Wonderwerk Cave and that’s where ancient humans made their home around two million years ago. While the inhabitants of the cave weren’t modern humans, the researchers believe that they were probably australopithecines or Homo Habilis.
It was a team of geologists and archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) and the University of Toronto who made this discovery. Incredibly, the cave was used as a home for several millions of years throughout history. What’s even more amazing is that they found evidence of the earliest use of fire and hand axes in a “cave context”.
They found animal remains, stone tools, and fire remains in a 2.5-meter-thick layer (8.2 feet) inside of the cave that they analyzed by using paleomagnetism and burial dating techniques. Professor Ron Shaar from HUJI’s Institute of Earth Sciences and the lead author of the study, explained what they did, “We carefully removed hundreds of tiny sediment samples from the cave walls and measured their magnetic signal.”
He went on to state, “We can now say with confidence that our human ancestors were making simple Oldowan stone tools inside the Wonderwerk Cave 1.8 million years ago. Wonderwerk is unique among ancient Oldowan sites, a tool-type first found 2.6 million years ago in East Africa, precisely because it is a cave and not an open-air occurrence.” The deep cave measures about 140 meters (459 feet) from beginning to end.
The type of stone tool making was called Oldowan and researchers were able to date that process (which included mostly chopping tools and sharp flakes) to early hand axes more than a million years ago, while the fire that they deliberately set was a million years ago.
While we’ll never know exactly why the dark cave was used as a home, perhaps it was a way for the ancient humans to hide from predators or maybe it was a spiritual and sacred location/sanctuary as crystals were found there. The entrance of the cave is particularly interesting as there is a big stalagmite located there (an upward-growing mound of mineral deposits that is created from water dripping onto the cave’s floor.
Co-directors of the study, Professor Michael Chazan from the University of Toronto and Liora Kolska Horwitz from the Hebrew University National Natural History Collections, stated that their discoveries “are an important step toward understanding the tempo of human evolution across the African continent. With a timescale firmly established for Wonderwerk Cave, we can continue studying the connection between human evolution and climate change, and the evolution of our early human ancestors’ way of life.”
A picture of a hand axe and the opening of the cave can be seen here.