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How Humans Harnessed Fire

Fire, a chemical reaction, is the burning of a combustible substance with oxygen, fuel, and heat. The reaction radiates heat and light. There are various uses for fire such as to cook food, to keep warm, and to light a candle. However, how did early humans use fire to their advantage?

The first proof of fire dates to around 440 million years ago, before human existence. Millions of years later, the ancestors of early humans called “hominins” discovered how fire could be used once they moved to the african savannas. However hominins were not the first to discover fire; in reality, no one did. Instead, there were chemical reactions that kept happening in the grasslands, which resulted in many wildfires. Instead of trying to invent it, hominins tried to control fire and some archeologists believe that the hominins learned to do so and maintain flame around 2.5 million years ago. But there was no apparent evidence to prove this theory. While stone tools can still be found by archaeologists many years later, the presence of fire cannot be tracked in early history.

By observing the behavior of animals today, researchers have attempted to explain how hominins first used fire. For example, different types of birds and even chimpanzees in the savanna take advantage of the newly mobilized and visible prey.

Fires in the savanna drive out any animals in the area, and also clear out any vegetation concealing carcasses. Similarly, early hominins probably recognized the foraging opportunity produced by wildfires. They used it to hunt for bird eggs, rodents, lizards, and mini animals. The practice of cooking food was likely the result of close interaction and observation of fire, as well as what fire did to different substances and foods. Cooking food became popular because it had more nutritional benefits and it tasted better.

Nowadays, we don’t use fire as much as our ancestors did. In modern day, using fire to make a pot of tea is more common in movies or in books. Now humans use an electric tea pot or a standard tea pot on a stove. However, fossil fuels need to be burned with fire to produce that electricity. Fossil fuels account for nearly 63 percent of U.S. electricity generation.

Even though we need to burn fossil fuels for heat, it negatively affects the Earth because of the CO2 it releases. This has contributed to: climate change, water pollution, and air pollution. However, the burning of fossil fuels is just one example of how important fire is to this day. The internal combustion engine also utilizes fire to make modern modes of transportation possible. Even though we do not use fire directly as much anymore, it is still a major component for many of our daily activities.

[Source: The New York Times; bigthink.com; Webster’s ll New Riverside Dictionary]

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