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Scientists find oldest known evidence

Scientists find Oldest known Evidence of humans in Europe using fires to cook

Prehistoric humans in Europe might have been sitting round campfires built to toast snacks as early as 250,000 years ago – 50,000 years earlier than originally thought, researchers have suggested.

Human species have a long association with fire, with some sites suggesting its controlled use dates back more than 700,000 years in Africa and the Middle East and at least 400,000 years in Europe.

Now experts say they have found the earliest evidence in Europe for fires that could have been made for hanging out and heating food.

“This is the oldest evidence of human-controlled fire meant for cooking and social interaction,” said Dr Clayton Magill, an assistant professor at Heriot-Watt University and an author of the study.

Magill noted that prior to the new study, other evidence had suggested there were “organised” fires in Europe by 200,000 years ago, meaning there were signs they were laid out deliberately and used for particular purposes.

“We’ve now pushed that date back 50,000 years,” he said.

“That’s not to say that other locations don’t have that. However, we haven’t been able to show it systematically or robustly until now,” he added.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, Magill and colleagues in Spain report how they studied the Valdocarros II site, east of Madrid.

The team say that not only did the site contain multiple hearths, but that chemical analyses of substances within them suggested the fires burned at temperatures between about 280C and 350C.

“That’s the sweet spot not for dedicated heating, or for persistently scaring animals, but rather for cooking,” said Magill.

The team also found evidence of degradation products from pine trees and fungus, suggesting rotten pine wood had been burned.

That, said Magill, was notable, because while found in the surrounding area, pine trees were not abundant locally to the site, suggesting the wood may have been deliberately collected.

“If we [look at] a lot of Indigenous peoples in the modern world, rotting wood is specifically sought out because it’s easier to burn at the sweet spot for temperatures for cooking,” he said.

It is unclear which species of early human might have used the fires, and traces of food have not been recovered from the hearths. However, the team are now analysing stone tools found near the hearths that show traces of animal fats and plants, as well as charred materials.

“We’re starting to see that these fires had a purpose in addition to being controlled or in a central location,” said Magill, adding that there was a good likelihood they were used to heat food.

“We can take another step forward and say if we’re cooking food in a controlled fire environment, that almost certainly means that we have a social structure and language,” he said, noting the site also showed evidence that large animals were butchered – an activity that would have required cooperation.

Prof Robert Hosfield of the University of Reading, who was not involved in the work, said the large size of one of the hearths suggested it might have been used for defence against predators.

He also noted that fire allowed the day to be extended, “which may have been especially important in seasons of shorter days at the higher latitudes”.

Prof John Gowlettof the University of Liverpool said the study was not the earliest evidence of social activity around fire in Europe, but that the work gave a “brilliant window” into early human activities. “Here at 245,000 [years ago] we can see that humans were using multiple small hearths, rather than having one big one, perhaps a sign that they could make fire at will,” he said.

Spanish climber, 84, injured in bid to be oldest to scale world’s 14 highest peaks

An 84-year-old Spanish mountaineer has been forced to abandon his 15th attempt to reach the summit of Nepal’s Dhaulagiri – one of the two “8,000ers” he had left to climb to claim the title of the oldest climber to conquer the world’s 14 highest mountains.

A Sherpa fell on Carlos Soria, injuring his leg, a message posted on his behalf on his Twitter and Facebook accounts said.

The climber was preparing to make a push for the summit when the incident occurred, the Himalayan Times newspaper reported.

Thaneswar Guragai, the general manager of Seven Summit Treks, which is providing Soria with local support, told Reuters.“He fell when he was climbing towards the summit … and suffered leg injuries.”

The accident took place at an altitude of 7,600 metres (24,934 ft). Sherpa guides were bringing him down to base camp for him to be evacuated to Kathmandu by helicopter, Guragai said.

Soria has climbed 12 of the world’s 8,000-metre peaks and had the Dhaulagiri and Tibet’s Shishapangma left to become the oldest climber to reach the summits of the planet’s 14 highest mountains.

Before his latest attempt on Dhaulagiri, he had said it might be the last chance to achieve his goal.

“I know I can go up and I want to go up. Maybe it’s the last chance I’ll have,” he told the Desnivel website before his trip. “Maybe it’s enough, but we’re going to try really hard and then God will tell.”

He had dedicated his challenge to elderly victims of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Spanish cash machine gangs broken up with 14 arrests

Spanish police have arrested 14 people and seized guns, satellite trackers and several police uniforms after breaking up two gangs whose members used homemade explosives to blow up cash machines and who dressed as police officers to carry out violent and meticulously planned robberies across the country.

The nationwide investigation began in autumn last year after the same gang used explosives to rob three banks in Málaga and Valencia. Investigators traced members of the gang to Madrid and Málaga and discovered that the group had its own bomb-maker who built the explosives by filling metal capsules with gunpowder from fireworks.

“Officers then discovered another criminal group – based in Madrid – whose members also robbed cash machines using explosives,” the Guardia Civil said in a statement. “The suspects, who used a similar modus operandi and the same provider of homemade explosives, carried out seven attacks on cash machines in Barcelona, Madrid, Alcalá de Henares and Madrid in 2022, making off with almost €550,000 (£479,000).”

Police established that there was a flow of members between the two gangs – both of which were painstaking in their raids. As well as turning off their mobile phones during the robberies and disposing of their clothes afterwards, they torched the stolen vehicles used in order to destroy any evidence.

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But their activities were not confined to banks. In March this year, members of the gang dressed up as police officers – complete with pistols, badges and bulletproof vests – to rob a woman in Málaga province. After tying her up and beating her, they stole her identity documents, her house keys, her car and €1,270 in cash. The following month, they stole €30,000 in cash from a man after boxing in his car, smashing its windows and dragging the victim out.

Other robberies followed a similar, three-stage pattern. After identifying people connected to the drug trade or in possession of large sums of money that could not be easily explained, the gang would keep tabs on their intended victims’ movements using surveillance cameras and GPS trackers.

The third phase was the robbery itself, in which the suspects would “pretend to be police officers, using law enforcement techniques, resources and equipment, and during which they would not hesitate to illegally detain their victims and use extreme violence”.

Fourteen people were arrested at the end of April and 23 different properties searched in south and central Spain. Among the items seized were: a large quantity of banknotes impregnated with security dye; numerous firearms and ammunition; satellite trackers; alarm-jammers; Policía Nacional and Guardia Civil clothes and equipment; seven vehicles; false number plates; and 112 marijuana plants.

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Police established that those arrested had extensive criminal records, were well-versed in police techniques and equipment, and had carried out 15 robberies throughout the country between June 2022 and April 2023.

They have been charged with membership of a criminal organisation, theft, armed robbery, vehicle theft, illegal detention, wounding, impersonating public officials, illegal weapons possession and being in possession of false documents.

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