1.1.2- Humans & Fire

Natalie Prisciandaro

When-
  • Undeniable evidence of widespread human control of fire dates to around 125,000 years back.
  • However, evidence suggests the species Home erectus first learned to control fire about 400,000 years ago.
  • Human control of fire was one of the factors characteristic of the transition from the Lower to the Middle Paleolithic in the period of 400,000 to 200,000
  • Humans developed multiple controlled uses for fire over the Paleolithic and Neolithic Eras
Humans taking fire from a log that is burning from a natural fire
Humans taking fire from a log that is burning from a natural fire


Who-
  • Human Species-
    • Homo erectus were the first, then Homo sapiens continued to develop the uses for fire over the Paleolithic and Neolithic Eras
Homo erectus gathered around a fire
Homo erectus gathered around a fire


Where-
  • Lower Paleolithic Evidence (not completely definitive)-
    • Earliest Evidence of Homo erectus’ control of fire-
      • Chesowanja, Kenya- Red clay sherds dated to be 1.42 million years ago.
Clay Sherds
Clay Sherds

      • Shanxi Province, China- Burning evidence by blackening and discoloration of mammal bones back to 1.7 million years ago.
      • Trinil, Java- Blackened bones and charcoal deposits found alongside Homo erectus fossils. Dated back from 500,000 to 800,000 BP.
  • Middle Paleolithic Evidence
    • Evidence of Homo erectus’ use of controlled fire is definitive in
      • Swartkrans, South Africa, with burned deposits dated from 200,000 to 700,000 years ago.
        • Evidenced by bone tools and bones with hominid-inflicted cut marks.This site also shows some of the earliest evidence of carnivory in Homo erectus.
      • Zhoukodian, China, as early as 230,000 to 460,000 years ago
        • This is suggested by the presence of burned bones, burned chipped-stone artifacts, charcoal, ash, and hearths with Homo erectus fossils.
      • Vertesszolos, Hungary, dating back to 350,000 years ago
        • Evidence of burnt bones.
      • Saint-Esteve-Janson, France, dated back to 200,000 years ago.
        • There is evidence of five hearths and reddened earth in the Escale Cave.
  • Around 125,000 years ago, peoples in all regions of the Earth that were populated had learned to control fire and make use of it.

How-
  • Humans witnessed forest fires that developed, as well as fires created when lightning struck. Volcanic activity and meteorites are also natural occurences of fire.
  • Early peoples used fires from these occurrences, until humans discovered they could make fire by friction.
    • Knocking flint to another stone like steel.
      Man making fire from flint and steel
      Man making fire from flint and steel
    • Rubbing wood together.
  • After learning to harness this energy so it could be accessed at all times, humans then began innovating for many more uses of fire besides warmth and light.

What-
  • Controlled uses of fire through Paleolithic and Neolithic Eras, and even into Modern Era
    • Heating Shelters
    • Lighting (torches)
    • Hearths
      Torch
      Torch
    • Cooking
      • Roasting meats on coals or grill
      • Baking in pit or stone oven
      • Boiling water in clay pots
      • Stone Boiling
      • Parching Seeds
    • Hunting
      • Driving bugs(grasshoppers) into cooking pots
      • Driving ground squirrels from holes
      • Smoking bees from their hives
      • Chasing game over cliffs or into traps
      • Torches for night fishing
    • Fire Stick Farming (landscape modification)-
      • fire was used regularly to burn vegetation to facilitate hunting and to change the composition of plant and animal species in an area
        • Coppicing(cutting back to stimulate growth) basket materials
        • Clearing brush for ease of travel and hunting
        • Clearing foliage to promote wildflowers for food
        • Burning meadows to promote seed bearing grasses
        • Clearing ground for food gathering
    • Steam Bending Wood
      • Straightening arrows, darts, and spear shafts
      • Re-curving and re-flexing bows
      • Bending basket rim sticks
      • Bending looped stirring sticks for stone boiling
      • Straightening hand drills for fire making
    • Smoking hides and meat for preservation
    • Softening tar and pitch for adhesive
    • Heat treating stone for Tools
      • Metallurgy
    • Wood Working
      • Burning bowls and spoons
      • Digging-out Canoes
      • Burning down trees
      • Sharpening and fire-hardening digging sticks and spears
    • Making Charcoal For
      • Cooking and Heating
      • Smelting Metals
      • Firing Pottery
      • Blacksmithing and Metal Casting
      • Pigment Extraction
      • Medicine and Water Purification
    • Charring to Preserve Posts from Insects and Rot
    • Smudge Fires to Repel Mosquitoes
    • Fire to Repel Animals
    • Smoking Tobacco and Medicines
    • Cauterizing Wounds
    • Communication- signaling (like in Lord of the Rings or Mulan)
    • Steaming
      • To extract fibers
      • To soften bone and wood
    • Ceremonies
      • Many foraging peoples and Native Americans had/have ceremonies involving fire

Sacred Fire Ceremony
Sacred Fire Ceremony



Why-
  • The controlled use of fire developed because in order to innovate, humans needed this technology. For humans to make tools, they needed to heat-treat the metal (by fire) so they could shape it. They needed fire to cook their food. Cooking the meat and plants gave people more nutrition, and killed bacteria on the food item, resulting in less sickness. Humans relied on fire for warmth and light, especially at night, but couldn't wait around all the time for lightning to strike or a volcano to erupt for a fire to start. People wanted fire available at all times, because fire made their lives easier. After harnessing fire, people over time developed many ways to use and rely on fire for a more productive life.
  • Some scientists today believe in a theory that fire indirectly is what made the human brain so large. They suggest that the cooking of meats and plants allowed for this development. Raw meat is not broken down whatsoeve, and is very tough, so our bodies have to use more energy to digest it. The cooking of meat acts like a "pre-digestion," which means less calorie intake to digest the meat, and more calories given to the brain, which brings about growth. Also, the cooking of plants allowed humans to eat more parts of the plant, including complex carbohydrates, instead of just simple sugars and carbohydrates.

Case Study-
  • Some scientists today believe in a theory that fire indirectly is what made the human brain so large. They suggest that the cooking of meats and plants allowed for this development. Raw meat is not broken down whatsoeve, and is very tough, so our bodies have to use more energy to digest it. The cooking of meat acts like a "pre-digestion," which means less calorie intake to digest the meat, and more calories given to the brain, which brings about growth. Also, the cooking of plants allowed humans to eat more parts of the plant, including complex carbohydrates, instead of just simple sugars and carbohydrates.


Summary-
  • In conclusion, the control of fire by humans was a turning point in human evolution. Fire changed the social and political aspects of peoples, no matter the type of social hierarchy, in that a person with access to fire would have a higher status and more power. As for religion, some people incorporated gods of fire into their beliefs. Fire also affected geography of humans, because people wanted to live where fire was accessible, like where there’s wood to burn and rocks like flint to make fire. Fire was a huge technology that was harnessed- probably one of the most important to our species. The innovation from our control of it led us towards where we are today. Fire allowed humans to cook food and get warmth and protection, whenever they needed it. Creating fires protected humans from predators and insects, as well as allowing people to still be active during the dark and cold hours of the night. By some it is believed that the cooking of meat led to a bigger human brain. Humans did not have to spend more calories digesting some tough foods once the food was softened when it’s cooked, which allowed for more calories to go to the brain. As for plants, raw cellulose and starch can’t be digested. Before fire, people could only consume the seeds, flowers, and fleshy fruits that had simple sugars and carbohydrates. Once fire was used for cooking, many more types of foods, like other parts of plants, were available for human consumption. Fire also led to the making of tools, weapons, helping wounds, communicating, hunting, and fire-stick farming, which are huge steps in human innovation. Fire was the start of the transition from the Paleolithic Era into the Neolithic Era. Without it, we’d all still be foragers.



Sources-