Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Discovery of Making Fire was Done by Kids. (That's what I think.)

Been reading a bit in the latest Science&Vie (Excellent French mag.) My French is quite rusty, but well, I manage, and there's lots of pretty pictures :)
The latest special issue is about the evolution of extinct hominids, great stuff, really.
One of the artist drawings was of an early hominid, heroically grabbing a burning branch, in the midst of a bush-fire.
So it depicts an era when man wasn't deathly afraid anymore of fire, probably using it already to its advantage, despite being incapable of producing a fire himself.
So I wondered, how did they make the big step forward from 'scavenging' fire to reliably producing fire?

And I thought: 'kids, of course!'

Now 'ere me out:

Somewhere arlong the evolution, early hominids became 'unnaturally' inquisitive, insomuch that they overcame their instinctive fears of the unknown: instead of fleeing from stuff they didn't understand, they got increasingly more fascinated by the world around them.
They started to look up at the stars, they started to think about stuff, cautiously observing fearsome things like fire from a distance, at first, but steadily overcoming their fears, until one brave soul grabbed a smouldering branch and (probably burning its hands) threw it away to a patch of dry grass, creating fire!
etc. etc.

So after awhile, they got smarter about it, found out ways to keep the fire burning days on end, discovering it was a friend (keeping them warm, keeping predators at bay at night, hardening tools, making food more readily digestable (how? That's not straightforward, but who knows, maybe one of them didn't like the cold meat he or she had as a leftover, being used to lukewarm meat, from lying in the sun or fresh from a killed animal, hmmm... Makes sense to try to warm it above a fire, after all...)

Okey-dokey, So Ms and Mr Barbarian had fire to their disposal, and hey, they kinda liked it, and it did things to their minds, as they sat staring in the flames at night, mesmerised by its flickering. Stirring stuff, and no reruns, heh.

Okay, so they had fire, but it was a fickle thing to get going, and sometimes they'd wake up and their fire had died, and they couldn't get it going again, bummer. So they had to wait for the next lightning storm and hope it would start another brush-fire etc. etc.

Meanwhile, that inquisitve mind...

Ever seen kids play with matches? They just love to set things alight, can't get enough of it. So I guess Barbarian Jr. wasn't behaving any different. You betcha they soon were tasked to keep the fire running, by throwing small sticks on it etc. And they just loved it.

And then one night the fire died, and aaaaw, they were as heartbroken as their parents.
Now these kids were destined to become hunter-gatherers, it was a family-business, back then.
And what is an important skill for a hunter-gatherer? A keen eye, sure, and stealth and stuff, but also throwing sticks and stones with precision. So when they went to Barbarian Junior High, they spent a lot of just doing that: practicing to throw stuff. Precisely and hard.
Now They've got a keen eye, a fascination for fire, the ability to throw stones hard and probably time to spare.
So it would be just a matter of time and good luck before one of them picked up a sharp stone and smashed it against a rock and see sparks fly!
Oh wow!
The inquisitve mind picks up the stone and throws it again, and once again there are those sparks! Great stuff.
Sits down and starts pounding it against the rock, discovering it is possible to reproduce sparks whenever he wants.

Kids with matches.

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