Origin of Fire and its Interesting Discovery
Posted on: April 20, 2021.

Fire has always been of critical fascination to humankind. Of the five natural elements—water, land, air, fire, space—fire was the most evasive, being the last to be discovered, understood, domesticated, and controlled.

Fire attracted animals and humans fundamentally through its dramatic and sensational appearance—its thermoluminescent yellow and orange hues—and psychedelic movements, that mesmerized onlookers.

Before humans learnt to manually initiate a fire, it was first only naturally discovered through forest fires or vegetation fires, by humans dwelling in forests, or colonies that lived in their outskirts.

Furthermore, fires were a phenomenon typical to forests and vegetated lands—no fire could possibly occur in wetlands or in barren lands like deserts, or treeless and grassless flatlands or drylands.

This is because fire is only possible if there is fuel to burn, oxygen for oxidative combustion that gives off heat and light, and an ignition source to start a fire. Essentially, the oxygen level in the atmosphere had to be around 15% for a vegetation fire to occur—today the oxygen level in the atmosphere is 21%.

The fundamental sources of natural ignition for fires were lightning strikes that hit trees which caught fire, or at times, winds caused dry trees to rub against each other generating friction that sparked fires.

Astonishing, the first recorded incident of natural fire on Earth—identified from charcoal in fossilized rocks belonging to the late Silurian Period—occurred more than 400 million years before humans even originated!

Charcoal is a highly reliable measure of the above estimate because charcoal is the partially combusted plant material left after a fire has been extinguished. This incident was, however, not a forest fire.

This is because, the aforesaid level of oxygen in the atmosphere—15%—required for a vegetative fire, was fluctuating and insufficient for a forest fire to even originate, though plants had spread across the Earth.

Subsequently, the first recorded occurrences of extensive wildfires—controlled only by climate—was during the early Carboniferous Period—about 345 million years ago!

Ecologically, “control fires” were a natural phenomenon in savannahs—grasslands or grassy vegetations— that had spread about 7 million years ago, such as those present in Africa.

Regular fires were an environmental need in savannah grasslands to control the otherwise uncontrolled proliferation of vegetative grasses into giant scrublands and forests.

Consequently, human colonies living in or close to savannah landscapes, would have witnessed the outbreak of such regular control fires, or even followed flaming trails, resulting in the first “discovery” of fire.

Furthermore, plants, root tubers, animals, and birds caught and burnt in such fires would be left in the wake of a fire trail, roasted, charred, and completely cooked, which curious humans would have later harvested.

Having tasted and consumed cooked plants, roots, and a variety of meat, humankind had discovered the ease of digesting cooked food, having earlier been unable to digest such complex food in their raw form.

Ancient human species had, by that point of time, fully discovered the various benefits of fire—clearing land for agriculture, cooking food, providing light and warmth, and keeping pests and predatory animals away.

However, human beings could not yet manually start a fire on their own, when and where they wanted, for their living needs. This significantly frustrated early humans until they could spark a fire of their own.

Humans were the only species developed enough to “stretch” fire from “control fires” to “habituated fires”, 400,000 to 300,000 years ago, constructing hearths in caves to warm by, and roasting meat.

And it was not until 40,000 years ago that humans used dry sticks or flint stones to start a fire, according to concrete archaeological estimates. Eventually, it was only about 7,000 years ago that humans had domesticated fire and used it on a regular and widespread basis to clear lands for agriculture and even for warfare.



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