• Rose Smith

Humanity’s History with Fire

Photo Source: Flickr

Fire stands as an extraordinarily destructive force with the ability to break down materials and valuables into ash. However, throughout the course of human history, we have found ways to hone its destructive power into innovative applications such as cooking, metallurgy, or, on a more broad level, the use of combustion to power machines that we use in our daily lives. While animals have grown around fire, humans are the first species to be able to stop and start fires at will and use them to their own gain.

Historians are not too sure how our ancestors figured out how to start fires on their own. It was likely done with basic tools such as taking already burning branches or trying to cause sparks with chopping stones and lighting dry kindling (National Geographic). Anthropologists pointed out that there is some evidence that our early ancestors sought out areas that were better for fire-making (think drier areas with kindling). In colder places, older ancestors had a birch box with embers and burnt leaves on their person, implying that humans carried around their fires once they got one started (they also possessed fire starting tools such as flint and rocks). At first, we thought that humans discovered fire around 300 or 400 thousand years ago, but we’re beginning to think that humans discovered it much earlier (History). A team of archaeologists discovered a campfire with charred bones from 2 million years ago in a camp site in South Africa thought to be occupied by humans and some of their early ancestors.

Fire has been able to help bring humans to the state of evolution and innovation that it enjoys today. Fire was the first way that humans were able to see without the aid of sunlight, allowing people to be able to stay up and talk, and allowing for an exchange of ideas and putting people off from going to sleep close after it got dark (History). The invention of cooking also contributed to our intellectual growth. The cooking of food allowed people to consume more calories per meal. Fire also breaks down the tougher parts of meat and plants to make them easier to digest and gain nutrients (Smithsonian). In fact, humans have evolved so well for eating cooked food that it is theoretically possible that you can starve to death while still consuming raw foods. Human beings have smaller teeth and stomachs than their ancestors because humans transitioned from a raw diet to a cooked diet. Human beings are also hard-wired to prefer the tastes most cooked foods over their raw counterparts. The chemical compounds that come from the burning of amino acids and carbohydrates are called Malliard Compounds, and people innately attracted to their taste (though it’s not proven whether or not it’s a person thing or a general mammal thing).

Humans throughout history have learned to harness fire for a multitude of purposes, including cooking, security, and light. Without fire, we would not have evolved into the species we are today. Our history of fire may stretch back to longer than we may have even imagined, as archaeologists have found earlier evidence of campfires. Since our ancestors discovered and realized the potential of fire, we can have the creature comforts of today (besides, I personally can’t imagine the world without a nice, cooked meal).