“LIGHT MY FIRE”
THE CONTROLLED USE OF FIRE
300,000 years ago
|This is a family of Neandertals using fire.
Credit: Illustration by Randii Oliver, NASA, courtesy of Wikimedia.
Fire revolutionized early human societies. It extended light into the night, produced warmth in cold weather, helped to keep predators away, and cooked raw foods, making them more digestible and safer to eat. Although evidence for fire in the form of baked sediments and burnt bones and stone artifacts can be found at very early stone age sites (around 2.0 to 1.5 million years ago), these could be the product of natural brush fires or lightning strikes. It is not until the last 300,000 years that hominins began to control the manufacture of fire, and identifiable hearths and burnt archaeological remains begin to become common.
This was the time period of the last Acheulean handaxe makers and contemporary industries, associated with Homo heidelbergensis. Modern human hunter-gatherer groups produce fire by using a fire-drill method or a fire-saw method, where two pieces of wood rubbed together produces enough friction and heat to ignite wood dust that can then be used to start tinder (such as dried moss, animal dung, grass, or frayed vegetation), then adding wood in the form of sticks, branches, or logs.
|This is a continuous frame video of a native of Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific, making fire by rubbing a stick on a small log.
Credit: Video by Plenz, courtesy of Wikimedia.
HOW DO WE KNOW?
The association of hearth structures (clear, discrete areas of burning in the form of baked sediments and ash or charcoal), burnt bones, and burnt stone artifacts strongly suggests a focal point of a protohuman group around a fire. The repeated occurrence of this pattern at one site through time, or at other sites strongly suggest a controlled manufacture and maintenance of fire.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Fire almost certainly revolutionized human societies and the lives of our ancestors. A fire burning at night is a focal point of human behavior and interaction well after the daily chores of foraging are over, probably encouraging more complex communication behavior (leading to modern language), rituals, and storytelling. As boy and girl scouts often discover, making fire is not easy… it requires skill, dexterity, and patience, as well as a good knowledge of what types of wood and tinder are ideal. Such technological abilities in early hominins are yet another indication of their advance thought processes.
This is a children’s website about an outine of the history of, and use of, fire.
This is MSNBC’s science article, “Scientists trace ancient signs of fire’s use.”
This is a website which details the uses of fire for tool making.
This Wikipedia webpage is about “Fire.”