World's earliest known matchsticks

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Small clay and stone artifacts found in Israel's Jordan Valley, long thought to be phallic symbols, may actually be 8,000-year-old matchsticks. Scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem used electro-microscopy to examine the objects, kept in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and found friction marks and possible burn marks suggesting that the cylinders had been used to start fires.

"We have fire evidence in modern humans and Neanderthals, from charcoal, ashes and hearths, but there was nothing ever found that was connected with how you ignite the fire," lead author Prof Naama Goren-Inbar of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem told BBC News.

But on a visit to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Professor Goren-Inbar recognized the shape of structures discovered at the Sha'ar HaGolan archaeological site as that found in tools used for purposes other than simply cultural ones.

"I saw this object and immediately it came to my mind that this was very, very similar to all the sticks that you see [used as] 'fire drills'. I made the connection and it slowly developed," she said.

"Archaeologists claim objects are earliest 'matches'" (BBC News)

"The Earliest Matches" (PLoS One)