More persuasive, but still not definite, evidence of human control of fire, dating from nearly 500,000 years ago, comes from the cave at Zhoukoudian in China where H. erectus fossils have been found. In that cave are thousands of splintered and charred animal bones, apparently the remains of meals.
There are also layers of ash, suggesting human control of fire. But recent analysis raises questions about these finds. The most serious problem is that human remains, tools, and ash rarely occur together in the same layers. In addition, there are no hearths at the site.
Fires can spontaneously occur with heavy accumulation of organic matter, so clear evidence of human control of fire is not definitely attested. Even the inference that humans brought the animals to the cave for butchering is just possibly a correct guess. Throughout the cave, there is evidence of hyenas and wolves and they, not the humans, may have brought many of the animal parts to the cave.
Better evidence of the deliberate use of fire comes from Europe somewhat later. Unfortunately, the evidence of control of fire at these European sites is not associated with H. erectus fossils, so the link between deliberate use of fire and H. erectus cannot be definitely established yet.
The lack of clear evidence does not of course mean that H. erectus did not use fire. After all, H. erectus did move into cold areas of the world, and it is hard to imagine how that could have happened without the deliberate use of fire.
Fire would be important not only for warmth; cooking would also be possible. The control of fire was a major step in increasing the energy under human control. Cooking made all kinds of possible food (not just meat) more safely digestible and therefore, more usable. Fires would also have kept predators away, a not inconsiderable advantage given that there were a lot of them around.