The Elements of Evolution (61-14-3) Fire


Who lit the first figurative match is hotly contested, but someone overcame innate fear of flame to harness its observed power. H. erectus or H. ergaster might have been the first to master fire 1.7 million years ago, perhaps earlier.

Controlled use of fire was a breakthrough technological advance, providing light and heat for many uses.

In breaking down plant cell walls via heat, cooking made vegetables more nourishing by unlocking their nutrients. The same applies to meat.

Fire was also used to drive game, and so make hunting easier. Later, with the onset of agriculture, fire cleared woodlands to make way for crops. This practice has continued to the present day. In grossly degrading the environment, fire was humanity’s first Faustian bargain.

Fire was also a means for further socialization, becoming a symbol in various belief systems of purity, sacrifice, or damnation. Fire was one of the 4 primordial elements, along with water, wind, and earth. Fire became embedded in hominin culture as well as providing for population increase and territorial expansion.

The combination of cooperative hunting with weapons, along with cooking and sharing, is ubiquitously recognized as a milestone in hominin evolution, notably the social recognition of the power in cooperation. That milestone was probably met around the time when spearheads were developed, some 500 TYA.