How Control of Fire Made Us Humans

Come on, baby, light my fire, said Homo Erectus about 1,8 million years ago.

Adelina Vasile

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Photo by Ryan Cryar on Unsplash

“Man is the only creature that dares to light a fire and live with it. The reason? Because he alone has learned to put it out.” — Henry Jackson Van Dyke, Jr.

Food for the thought.

Can you imagine your life today if Homo Erectus hadn’t learned how to control fire sometime between 1,8 million years and 300,000 years ago?

The early humans learning to control fire is what made us… humans. The humans we call ourselves today.

Before that, we were just like any other animal.

We used to live in fear and darkness, subsiding with scarce, raw food. We relied on the sunlight to stay alive, and we would hide at the fall of dusk.

Once we got in control of the fire, we started to:

  • Cook our food, get more nutrients out of it, and avoid food poisoning from consuming certain raw plants;
  • Keep ourselves warm;
  • Better protect ourselves from predators, particularly at night;
  • Work on more efficient hunting tools;
  • Keep a source of light and stay awake for longer, doing things we needed to do to thrive as a species.

But how can we possibly know today exactly when did we start to use fire?

We don’t know for sure. Hence the “between 1,8 million years and 300,000 years ago” mention. Plus, it wasn’t just a moment in time. There were stages.

Stages when we learned to live next to the fire. Or refine our “cooking abilities” — so that we didn’t have to settle for burnt food. And stages where we came to take the fire and carry it somewhere else. Only in the end we came to put it on right when and where we needed it.

There’s this fascinating article on Wikipedia that is packed with scientific sources. It says that many studies show:

“evidence for the microscopic traces of wood ash as controlled use of fire by Homo erectus”

The proof is in the ashes, and the fossils of “not entirely modern Homo sapiens”, and the pieces of flint blades that burned…

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Adelina Vasile

Mother, educator, journalist, copywriter. I write about the things I need to learn myself.