Long before fire, migrants lit fires to remind themselves of a lost world

Scientists discover fragment of pottery from 950BC which recorded first plume of smouldering fire, caused by the birth of humanity

One of the earliest recorded plumes of fire in Earth’s history was discovered by archaeologists working in southern Chile.

The 4,000-year-old fire was caused by the birth of humanity, with burials in an archaeological site discovered to contain pots dating from 950BC.

The pottery fragments and clues found by chance at the site of the Menomulme royal burial tomb highlight the ancient habit of relighting fires.

Only recently has the practice been discovered. In June archaeologists came across a similar fire on a stone pillar unearthed at a 2500BC construction site near Alexandria, Egypt.

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Historians have said the Greeks coined the term “plume” in reference to smouldering fire.

At Menomulme, scientists working with an excavator found an ancient pottery fragment containing a votive inscription by Pandiasco, a Roman emperor. In it, he claimed his empire was brought to power by a fire that ignited through a celestial event.

Fire fires were used at the site for years and become extinct as time went on, before being recreated when the excavation team uncovered the new brick walled structure of the burial chamber.

Charred remnants of the replica wooden flower jars discovered at the Menomulme royal burial tomb. Photograph: Corbis via Getty Images

The smoking plume is dated to 949BC when the pyramid of Menomulme was constructed and the stones used for its construction found on the site were made from the earthstone ossuary, after the Greeks made their name by making clay and gold elements from the ore.

Chilean paleoclimatologist Albert Jaramillo, a researcher with the team, said it provided new understanding of the construction of ancient structures.

“With the reproduction of this fire, we can’t imagine what structures were located around the earthstone ossuary,” he said.

On a visit to the site earlier this year, Jaramillo said the site was the world’s oldest settlement discovered by archaeologists to have been occupied by living humans.

The teams believe that the kingdom of ancient Persians was established at the site and the first inhabitants of Menomulme formed a section of the empire.

According to Jaramillo, evidence of life on the site dates from the end of the Mesolithic (955-1050BC), and the beginning of the Neolithic (1090-1175BC) era. The earliest evidence of fire is from the Neolithic period.

In ancient Egypt, researchers have found evidence of fire out of a stalagmite buried at the burial of Queen Nefertiti.

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