The history of fire

The history of fire

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Fire has been important for human development. Among other things, it allowed our ancestors to move to colder regions, revolutionized the cooking and was important to keep the food rations.

Our ancestors ability to master fire was an important turning point for the cultural aspect of human evolution. Homo erectus is the first human being to was proven to master fire, about 400.000 years ago. New discoveries tells us humans have had the ability to control fire as far as 1.7 million years back, but scientists are still arguing on this point.
"When you go so far back in time it's hard to know for certain," says historian Knut Ødegård.


A turning point in human development

Man made fire by grinding stones or wood. Some indigenous peoples still use the same methods as 400,000 years ago.

Indigenous peoples in New Guinea use friction to create fire. They have only been exposed to the modern world in the past 60 years, and many of their rituals and traditions are practiced still.

"Being in control of fire is an important point in human development. The fire protected from the weather and allowed our ancestors to move to colder they could avoid mold on the grain. Storing food was easier. Later the fire was central in development of tools and art.

Did you know that:
Earth is the only known planet in the universe where fire can burn?
In the rest of the universe there is not enough oxygen.



The fire gave more children

Before man mastered the fire, the diet consisted mainly of seeds, plants and fruits, but much of the plants could not be digested. By heat-treating them, more plants could be eaten and new nutrients were available. The heat killed parasites and made it easier to digest meat. Something that led to a higher calorie and nutritional intake, which again made it easier to survive and have more children.

Erotic art

"The fire has also been important for the development of art. The so-called Venus figures are dated as early as 35,000 years ago. The figures portray the female body - often carved in stone. What the figures were used for is unclear. Some believe that the Venus character had religious significance, while others believe that the characters were erotic art or portraits of women.


Venus of Villendorf


The legend of Prometheus

Ødegård explains that there is a lot of mythology related to the fire.
"The fire has been admired by many cultures. It may not be strange when you think of the importance of fire for our ancestors. One of the most famous myths of fire comes from ancient Greece; The story of how Prometheus stole the fire from the gods to give it to man.”
Prometheus was one of the Titans. During the Titanomachy, the war between the Titans and the Olympian gods, Prometheus sided with Zeus, helping to overthrow the old gods. Siding with the winning side, Prometheus avoided being punished with the rest of the Titans and was therefore not sent to the Underworld.
In all accounts, Prometheus was presented to be the protector and benefactor of mankind. In an event called Trick at Mecone, he tricked Zeus by asking him to choose between two offerings; beef hidden inside an ox's stomach (something pleasing hidden inside a repelling exterior) or bones wrapped in glistening fat (something inedible hidden inside a pleasing exterior). Zeus chose the latter and hence, a precedent was created in what humans could sacrifice from that moment; so, they kept the meat for themselves and sacrificed bones to the gods.
As a result of the trick at Mecone, Zeus was infuriated and decided to hide fire from mortals as punishment. Prometheus, in an effort to help humanity again, managed to steal fire back and give it to humans. More enraged, the father of gods asked Hephaestus to create Pandora, the first woman, who according to Hesiod, would bring troubles to mankind. He also punished Prometheus by having him chained to a rock, where an eagle ate his liver during the day, and the liver was regenerated during the night due to Prometheus' immortality. He was later saved by the demigod Hercules who shot and killed the eagle.


Prometheus brought the fire to man.

Man's ability to master the fire has been crucial to our development. Perhaps that's why it's so relaxing to sit in front of the fireplace. In 2014, researcher Christopher Lynn found that the sound of sparkling wood led to a significant reduction in blood pressure. Perhaps our ancestors experienced the same effect as they kept warm around the fire hundred of thousands of years ago.