Let us start this blog with a simple acknowledgement that we are the most unique species on earth. The very act of questioning how we came to be the way we are is of such uniqueness that notwithstanding the never-ending quest for an unequivocal answer the question itself is a thing of marvel. It is unfortunate though that the society has programmed us to not question things; to accept the paradigms that are completely based on wrong assumptions and presuppositions; to be enslaved and surrender to work and education that destroys creativity and to live a lifestyle where there is a perpetual fear of being rejected and outcast by the society.
For today let us delve into quite possibly the most important turning point in the history of mankind for without it we wouldn’t be here in a million years.
The discovery of fire and
the taming of it
The early hominids must have noticed fire occurring in nature such as lightening and volcanoes. He himself must have been terrified of the fire that occurred in massive scale in the forest destroying everything before it. Overtime, curiosity played its part forcing him to look at the charred remains and wonder how it could protect him by keeping predators at bay if only he could procreate and destroy it at will. The quest thus was to observe nature, how she did it and then try to replicate. Until then the only way he could leverage fire was to capture it when it happened accidently in nature. For the first time in history he was taking a massive step forward that would ultimately change his destiny forever. And by trial and error he did it. He was able to create fire by friction between two surfaces e.g. by rubbing two flints or sliding back and forth a stick on a wooden surface.
The earliest known evidence of controlled fire dates back 1 million years in the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa near the edge of Kalahari Desert. Recently scientists have unearthed remains which when observed under a microscope reveal charred animal bones and plant ashes along with heated sediments such as ironstone. Our ancestors then would have been Home erectus, of the Lower Paleolithic age. However, not many scientists believe that the fire was controlled and this evidence has been considered one of big uncertainty.
The next known evidence comes from Bnot Ya’akov Bridge in Northern Israel where researchers from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan found burnt artifacts dated between 690,000 to 790,000 ya also belonging to Homo erectus. However it is at Qesem Cave in Palestine that the most profound investigation regarding archaeological traces have been carried out that have confirmed that the Neanderthals tamed fire around 300,000 to 400,000 ya.
Fire changed everything. Besides providing light and warmth, it was a crucial means of defense from the predators. Activities were no longer limited to daytime. It brought about a change in their diet; food could now be cooked making them more palatable and digestible. So the digestive system got more efficient helping them grow stronger. It was equally useful to make stone tools and burn clay for making ceramic objects. A new trend of sitting around campfires and socializing was borne fostering the development of languages and communication skills. Huge areas of forests could now be cleared for settlements, which together with the Neolithic Revolution gave birth to the pre-modern and modern civilizations as we know today.
BBC News. (2004) Science and Environment. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3670017.stm
Discovery News. (2012) Archaeology. Retrieved from http://news.discovery.com/history/archaeology/human-ancestor-fire-120402.htm
Wrangham, A. (2003). Cooking as a biological trait. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology. 136(1): 35-46.