A fire-starting stone slab found in Israel. A fire-starting stone slab found in Israel. This stone slab represents prehistoric man's best chance at starting a fire. (Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority)

This is what a lighter looked like 9,000 years ago

Researchers say a recently discovered stone slab was used to start fires.

Lighters have definitely benefitted from a reduction in size through the millennia.

Just take a look at the above slab of limestone rock. It was found recently in Israel at an excavation site near the town of Bet Shemesh, which lies between the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Researchers said it was used about 9,000 years ago to start fires. That means it is practically the prehistoric equivalent of a Zippo lighter.

Students at an excavation site in Israel.Students from a local Israeli school work at the site of the discovery of a prehistoric lighting device. (Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority)

"The ancient people who lived here during the New Stone Age prepared [this] thick limestone slab with two depressions in it and grooves between them that connected the hollows," explained Anna Eirikh-Rose, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

"This device made it possible to rapidly rotate a wooden branch in the hollow (similar to a drill). The rotational energy was translated into heat, and when it came in contact with a flammable material placed inside the hollow, it began to burn and the fire was lit."

Evidence of producing fire in the region, in the form of ash and charcoal, can be dated back to the Old Stone Age – about 800,000 years ago.

But the use of fire became significantly more important some 10,000 years ago, during the Neolithic period, researchers say, pointing to an increase in technologies dependent on it.

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