Control of fire by early humans

The control of fire by early humans was a turning point in the cultural aspect of human evolution. Fire provided a source of warmth, protection, improvement on hunting and a method for cooking food. These cultural advancements allowed for human geographic dispersal, cultural innovations, and changes to diet and behavior. Additionally, creating fire allowed the expansion of human activity to proceed into the dark and colder hours of the evening.

Claims for the earliest definitive evidence of control of fire by a member of Homo range from 1.7 to 0.2 million years ago (Mya). Evidence for the controlled use of fire by Homo erectus, beginning some 600,000 years ago, has wide scholarly support. Flint blades burned in fires roughly 300,000 years ago were found near fossils of early but not entirely modern Homo sapiens in Morocco. Evidence of widespread control of fire by anatomically modern humans dates to approximately 125,000 years ago.

Use and control of fire was a gradual process, proceeding through more than one stage. One was a change in habitat, from dense forest, where wildfires were rare and potentially catastrophic, to savanna (mixed grass/woodland) where wildfires were very rare and of lower intensity. Such a change may have occurred about three million years ago, when the savanna expanded in East Africa due to cooler and drier climate.

The next stage involved interaction with burned landscapes and foraging in the wake of wildfires, as observed in various wild animals. In the African savanna, animals that preferentially forage in recently burned areas include Savanna chimpanzees (a variety of Pan troglodytes verus), Vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops) and a variety of birds, some of which also hunt insects and small vertebrates in the wake of grass fires.

The next step would be to make some use of residual hot spots that occur in the wake of wildfires. For example, foods found in the wake of wildfires tend to be either burned or undercooked. This might have provided incentives to place undercooked foods on a hotspot or to pull food out of the fire if it was in danger of getting burned. This would require familiarity with fire and its behavior.

An early step in the control of fire would be transporting it from burned to unburned areas and lighting them on fire, providing advantages in food acquisition. Maintaining a fire over an extended period of time, as for a season (such as the dry season) may have led to the development of base campsites. Building a hearth or other fire enclosure such as a circle of stones would have been a later development. The ability to make fire, generally with a friction device with hardwood rubbing against softwood (as in a bow drill) was a late development.

This page was last edited on 20 May 2018, at 02:36.
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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