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A discovery in China reveals humans have been using coal as fuel for more than 3,5000 years

Ian Harvey

An extraordinary new discovery in China has revealed that humans have been burning coal for fuel for more than 3,500 years. Archaeologists have discovered proof of coal-burning going back to the Bronze Agat a site in Xinjiang province, Northwest China. The findings show that humans utilized coal 500 years earlier than previously thought.

Map showing the location of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Photo Credit

Map showing the location of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Photo Credit

In around 1,500 BC, people were using coal as fuel in the ancient villages of Xinjiang. Records show that in the year 1,000 BC, the Fushan mine was producing coal in northeast China, and was used to smelt copper. From 202 BC through 220 AD, the Han dynasty created “Coal Cakes” from coal powder, quartz, and clay for use in fuel furnaces. Romans utilized coal in Britain during the years of 100-200 AD, as seen from cinders discovered in the hearths of forts and villas. Through the Song Dynasty in China, coal overtook charcoal in the manufacturing of steel and iron. Newcastle shipped coal to London for the building of Westminister Abbey from 1256 to 1259 AD. During the 14th-century, shaft mining commenced in Britain. Through the late 18th and 19th century, the production of coal dramatically increased due to the Industrial Revolution.

Anthracite coal

Anthracite coal

Investigators from the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology discovered traces of burnt coal at the Jiren Taigoukou Ruins Site in Ili Valley. Pits found at the site show the coal might have been used for fires in the village. Archaeologists also discovered copper instruments on the digging site which may have been forged from the fuel. Coal is abundant in north and northwest China, whilst dense forests cover much of the south. This might be why individuals in these regions could have found coal earlier than any of the other parts of the country, instead of just burning wood. Researchers understand that people in western and northern China were the first in the world to utilize coal as a regular energy source. But the commercialized usage of coal became general throughout the Song Dynasty during the 11th century AD, when it overtook charcoal in the manufacturing of iron. Even so, it was not until the 18th century that coal was used extensively in Britain as an energy source.