The discovery of fire

Edouard and Vania, the two heroes of the famous novel of Roy Lewis “Why I ate my father”, tell us with much humor the discovery of fire starting from natural fires, initially recovered at the time of forest fires due to the lightning or after volcanic eruptions, such as for example in Eastern Africa or Auvergne. One does not know since when the Men were able to produce fire, but the first traces of domesticated fire undeniable are structures of combustion going back to approximately 500 ‘ 000 years.

Fire brings closer the men who like to gather around this source of heat and of light to divide a roast, to palaver or sing with taken care. It without any doubt had to play a central role in the social life and to perhaps support the development of the communication and the language. To know to make fire considerably improved comfort of our ancestors.

The manufacture of fire

Before the invention of the matches (which dates only from the 19th century), the men used various techniques to produce fire. With Paleolithic, one could produce it by friction (starting from the heat produced by the friction of a tender piece of wood on a hard wood) or by percussion (sparks born of the shock of a hard stone like flint on a ferruginous stone like the pyrite). It was all the more difficult as one was in an moist environment, and it was probably much easier to preserve fire by maintaining it constantly not to let it die out. It is imagined that tribes which could not do it could try to get it near others technologically more advanced. It is the history of “the war of fire”, told by J.H. Rosny Aîné in its “Novel of the ages savage” and carried to the screen by Jean-Jacques Annaud in 1981.

To heat itself

In her news “To build a fire”, Jack London, American novelist of the beginning of the 20th century magnificiently described the fight against the cold, for survival in the Far North of Alaska. This fight was from time immemorial: with Paleolithic the Men lived in an environment much colder than currently in Europe, and heated themselves using hearths. This control of fire allowed the settlement of the inhospitable septentrional areas, having a very rigorous climate in winter. The hearths, arranged out of basin or delimited by large blocks of stone having for role to contain fire and embers, were in the center of the domestic activities. Various types of structures of hearths can be defined according to their functions. The fuels employed were wood and the bone. But all wood do not have the same heat efficiency. The study of the charcoals which were preserved to us, informs us about the species of trees used.

To light

Contrary to certain animals which live hidden during the day and leave during the night, like the fox, the oryctérope to Africa, owls and the owls, the men activate rising with the sunset. To prolong his activities later in the night, the man needs light. With Paleolithic it had three types of source of light: lamps, torches and hearths. The presence of hearths in a habitat made it possible to have light after the sunset. Contrary to hearths which are fixed and have other domestic functions, the lamps and the torches were mobile and played the part of our candles and current torches.

The lamps were out of stones, made up of a hollow part in the shape of cup where one put animal grease (horse, aurochs, reindeer, etc) to burn and a wick which could be out of vegetable matter like the lichen or foam, and often of a part forming a handle for gripping. Many paleolithic lamps were found, their use made it possible to the first artists to be inserted in the caves to paint and engrave on the walls and to practice probably there the ritual ones. Certain lamps were decorated, it is the case of that found in the cave of Lascaux in the Dordogne.

The cooking of food

At the beginning of Humanity the men did not control fire and did not have sufficient weapons to drive out the large herbivores with much effectiveness. They were vultures recovering of the burst animals and eating gamy meat.

During Paleolithic, the Man became a more and more tested hunter, having increasingly effective weapons. He thus could acquire fresh game and the cooking of the raw meat doubtless facilitated its digestion. Fire moves away the dangerous animals like the snakes, or the large carnivores attracted by odors of cut up carcasses.

The food was cooked in grills, was roasted (with the pin), on embers, with choked, or was boiled using heated stones. The meats could also be fume, which allowed their conservation.

Fire, an energy of transformation

The man discovered that fire could enable him to transform a rough raw material. Several millenia before the invention of ceramics and the metallurgy, the men heated flint kidneys beforehand: the heated flint changes color and of texture, it becomes easier to output and improve. One thus obtained very beautiful objects like the points solutréennes called by the prehistorians “breaks into leaf of Bay-tree”.

The red blood stone is a raw material rare in the nature, but frequently used by the men of Paleolithic for the treatment of the skins, or fine esthetics (body paintings and on the walls of the caves). This red blood stone was often obtained by heating of yellow ocher. Fire also could be used to smoke the skins of animals to facilitate the tanning of it, as one can see it at certain populations of current hunters-gatherers.


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Wawan Haryanto cah Temanggung

Asli cah Temanggung, Jawa Tengah, Indonesia

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