QUEST FOR FIRE
Fire has certainly been known of for almost 800,000 years ago. Lightning strikes were the most commonly observed event causing fire to result. Mankind’s first use of fire may have started when someone bravely lifted a burning branch from a tree that had been struck by lightning. This is generally called the “opportunistic” use of fire; using it when and where natural forces ignited flammable substances. Fire was probably used in this way for about 400,000 years before it was brought under control.
The first deliberately constructed fireplaces/hearths represent the first proof that fire was under control. They can be found in South Africa and Israel dating between 200,000 and 125,000 years ago.
So, what effect did the controlled use of fire have on the evolution of mankind?
The influence of fire on the PHYSICAL evolution of the human species has been a heated controversy for years. Some scientists believe that cooked food provided the human body with more calories and therefore more energy. This allowed a shift of body resources away from digestion (causing the digestive system to shrink in size) and toward the brain, increasing its size and human intelligence as well. They also thought that, because of cooked meat, the human jaw got smaller resulting in fewer and smaller teeth. Other scientists disagree. While they admit that cooked food did contribute to a healthier body, the other physical changes mentioned would have had to occur over a much longer period of time.
There is no controversy about the effect of the controlled use of fire on CULTURAL evolution however. Fire was used to provide heat, cook plants and animals, burn clay
for ceramics, and heat treat stone to make tools. In its portable state, fire
was used to bring light after dark in order to extend the work day, clear
forests for planting, ward off dangerous animals and insects, and to wage war.
The controlled use of fire “ignited” an explosion of things that mankind was
able to do. It allowed early cultures and civilizations to develop.