Of all the discoveries of ancient man, none made a greater impact on humanity than fire. Although fire was certainly developed independently by many groups, its discovery is none the less one of the greatest moments in mankind becoming what we are today. Without fire there could be no cooking, no warmth beyond what nature or body heat can provide, no light after dark. Fire was man’s first discovery that allowed the utilization of energy on demand. It would later drive our engines, smelt our metals and even propel rockets to the moon and beyond.
Anyone who has started a campfire without an accelerate knows that it can be surprisingly difficult to get a good strong self-sustaining flame going, even with the aid of matches or a lighter. For early man, it was much more difficult still. Simply being able to consistently create a fire and contain it for use demonstrates a high degree of intelligence and the ability to learn.
Now scientists have discovered evidence that it may have happened earlier than we had previously believed.
Humans used fire 1 million years ago, says study
(AP) NEW YORK – When did our ancestors first use fire? That’s been a long-running debate, and now a new study concludes the earliest firm evidence comes from about 1 million years ago in a South African cave.
The ash and burnt bone samples found there suggest fires frequently burned in that spot, researchers said Monday.
Over the years, some experts have cited evidence of fire from as long as 1.5 million years ago, and some have argued it was used even earlier, a key step toward evolution of a larger brain. It’s a tricky issue. Even if you find evidence of an ancient blaze, how do you know it wasn’t just a wildfire?
The new research makes “a pretty strong case” for the site in South Africa’s Wonderwerk Cave, said Francesco Berna of Boston University, who presents the work with colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
One expert said the new finding should be considered together with a previous discovery nearby, of about the same age. Burnt bones also have been found in the Swartkrans cave, not far from the new site, and the combination makes a stronger case than either one alone, said Anne Skinner of Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., who was not involved in the new study.
Another expert unconnected with the work, Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University in The Netherlands, said by email that while the new research does not provide “rock solid” evidence, it suggests our ancestors probably did use fire there at that time.
One thing I have always wondered about, and of course, we will never know, is how many ancients may have learned of fire only to abandon it out of fear. Certainly not all of early man’s encounters with fire were pleasant. It may first have been experienced in the wildfires started by spontaneous combustion of overheated turf or from a lightning strike. Such an experience would be terrifying, and once man began to experiment with fire, it’s all but certain that some mishaps and burns occurred.
Yet some groups stuck with it. Perhaps it was because it was recognized as useful or maybe because it frightened others. Maybe it was just curiosity. Whatever the case, at some point, someone began to create fires and, despite perhaps suffering a few burns or coughing on smoke and enduring the frustration of seeing the tiny smoldering embers go out, they learned how to tame and use fire.
Might there have been some tribes that had mastered fire and others that did not? If so, it’s almost certain that this advantage would have lead to those with fire succeeding and those who didn’t falling by the wayside. This could have even been a factor in early human evolution.
But what i early mankind looked at fire the way we look at new forms of energy today? Would they have used fire at all? It’s a sobering thought to consider that if our ancestors had the same attitude we have today, we might still be eating raw meat, huddled in mud huts at the mercy of the cold darkness of night…
This entry was posted on Friday, April 6th, 2012 at 1:08 am and is filed under Culture, Good Science, History, Misc, Nuclear. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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