If we’ve had so much time to experiment with fire, why does everything I cook turn to charcoal?
There’s definitely room for controversy over time estimates when it comes to the hominid quest for fire.* I used the longest time estimate of early homo fire use because I’d like to give our discoveries the benefit of the doubt, and also because–check out this bonobo using a lighter! Not only does it light a fire and cook marshmallows, it also litters the campsite! (I could watch apes commit minor legal offenses all day). The skeptic in me however grants that the evidence for million year early fire wielding is shaky at best, and wonders if that bonobo isn’t actually Warwick Davis in costume.
Natural processes such as wildfires could account for some of the earliest fiery findings but things start to get more interesting as the dates advance. A 790,000 year old site around Jordan shows signs of localized artifact burning and possible hearths, and as we approach a couple hundred thousand year old evidence, charred bones with teeth marks around stone hearths as well as tools in ancient dwellings become pretty incontrovertible signs of Prometheus’s meddling.
To me the whole date issue only really gets interesting when we take into account the idea of Homo Sapiens, fully modern Humans, migrating out of Africa 200,000 years ago. That would mean that if we accept certain findings from other regions of the world (such as Zhoukoudian China from as much as 780,000 years ago) our cousins, the folks that are not our common ancestors, also had the intellect and ability to wield fire. Perhaps even before we did. Yet they weren’t smart enough to continue living. That means one of two things: either fire wielding isn’t as impressive as it’s been made out to be, or our smarter cousins followed the inverse correlation between intelligence and fertility and died out, leaving the world to us, the dumb ones.**
This post was brought to you by Prometheum (Pm).
*I did the research for you though, and it turns out to be 1981. You’re welcome.
**there might be a couple other explanations here, but I’m pretty sure this was the correct sentence on which to end the post.