What Is Fire and What Role Did It Play in Human Evolution?
Fire is the outward sign that oxygen is combining with other substances in a spectacular chemical reaction. As the air is rich in oxygen, many materials will burn freely in a process scientifically called combustion, if their temperature is raised high enough. This explanation of what had been considered a mysterious phenomenon was discovered by the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier in 1783.
The discovery of fire may have changed early man’s wandering mode of life to a more settled one because of an urge to keep the fire burning. It provided him with a new weapon for survival, warmed his cave and huts, enabled him to cook, and helped to scare off dangerous animals. Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham has suggested that cooked food allowed for greater brain development and evolution, transforming our ancestors over millions of years into the human beings we are today.
In ancient time’s people in Persia, Egypt and India believed fire to be sacred and worshiped it as representative of the sun. According to the Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. Many Native American cultures believe an animal such as a wolf, woodpecker, or coyote brought fire to people after stealing it from an evil being. Legends from the Caroline Islands in the Pacific say a young boy, Olofat, gave fire to humans by letting a bird fly from heaven with fire in its beak. There are even different scientific theories about when humans first controlled fire.
The chemical reaction of oxygen and a fuel source we know as fire has been around as long as oxygen and sources of fuel have been around. In other words, fire has been around for millions of years. It’s a natural reaction that fire didn’t need to be invented. The earliest creatures that predated human beings were probably well aware of fire. When lightning would strike a forest and create a fire, it probably intrigued and amazed them.
Exactly who first learned to create and control fire? And when did that happen? These are questions that have no definite answers. In fact, they’re some of the most asked questions that scientists still study today and hope to answer definitively one day. Obviously, matches and lighters didn’t exist millions of years ago. However, it’s certainly possible that fire was obtained naturally and was kept burning to use for various purposes, such as cooking and heating.
Evolutionists theorize that over time, pre-humans may have also learned how to make primitive fires using sticks and flint. These scientists believe that learning to make and control fire was most likely one of the earliest discoveries made by pre-humans that walked upright on two legs.
Today, many scientists believe that the controlled use of fire was likely first achieved by an ancient human ancestor known as Homo erectus during the Early Stone Age. Archeologists have uncovered evidence of what they believe to be the controlled use of fire in Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa, as well as the Lake Turkana region of Kenya.
Although it’s impossible to know exactly who used fire in these areas or how they used it, experts believe these sites show that the early ancestors of human beings controlled fire well over a million years ago. Evidence at some of the sites indicates that the use of fire could date back almost two million years.