Fire! It warms us, mystifies us, delights us, and sometimes terrifies us. One thing's for sure: it would be hard to imagine a life without fire.
On cold nights, fires keep us warm and help us to survive. Without fire, it would be impossible to cook the foods we love to eat. Sitting around a campfire can be one of the most pleasurable experiences in life, but if that fire sparks and catches a house on fire, lives and entire existences can be lost.
Fire is one of the most important forces in our world. It has played an important role throughout all of human history. But exactly who invented it? How was fire discovered?
According to the Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. Many Native American cultures believe an animal such as a wolf, woodpecker, or coyote brought fire to people after stealing it from an evil being. Legends from the Caroline Islands in the Pacific say a young boy, Olofat, gave fire to humans by letting a bird fly from heaven with fire in its beak. There are even different scientific theories about when humans first controlled fire.
The chemical reaction of oxygen and a fuel source we know as fire has been around as long as oxygen and sources of fuel have been around. In other words, fire has been around for millions of years.
It's a natural reaction that fire didn't need to be invented. The earliest creatures that predated human beings were probably well aware of fire. When lightning would strike a forest and create a fire, it probably intrigued and amazed them.
Exactly who first learned to create and control fire? And when did that happen? These are questions that have no definite answers. In fact, they're some of the most asked questions that scientists still study today and hope to answer definitively one day.
Obviously, matches and lighters didn't exist millions of years ago. However, it's certainly possible that fire was obtained naturally and was kept burning to use for various purposes, such as cooking and heating.
Evolutionists theorize that over time, pre-humans may have also learned how to make primitive fires using sticks and flint. These scientists believe that learning to make and control fire was most likely one of the earliest discoveries made by pre-humans that walked upright on two legs.
Today, many scientists believe that the controlled use of fire was likely first achieved by an ancient human ancestor known as Homo erectus during the Early Stone Age. Archeologists have uncovered evidence of what they believe to be the controlled use of fire in Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa, as well as the Lake Turkana region of Kenya.
Although it's impossible to know exactly who used fire in these areas or how they used it, experts believe these sites show that the early ancestors of human beings controlled fire well over a million years ago. Evidence at some of the sites indicates that the use of fire could date back almost two million years.
In addition to helping ancient ancestors stay warm and keep predators away, controlling fire allowed them to begin to cook meats and vegetables. Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham has suggested that cooked food allowed for greater brain development and evolution, transforming our ancestors over millions of years into the human beings we are today.