Humans and Fire – A Revolutionary Symbiosis
Summary: Charles Darwin claimed that fire was “the greatest invention ever made by man excepting language.” But for our pre -sapient hominid ancestors ’ fire would likely have been a decisive factor tipping the balance of power away from Africa’s large predators in favor of Homo erectus. Months or years of solar energy stored in a few tree branches could now be released in a single night to provide light, warmth and heat for cooking, the carving of wooden spear points and the alteration of simple materials. The energy liberated from these pieces of wood, when applied to tough roots and bits of meat, fundamentally altered the ER/EI of meat consumption by reducing the endosomatic energy investment required for digestion. The invention of cooking significantly expanded our ancestors’ food base to plants which wer en’t edible without cooking. This, in turn, freed up significant additional energy, which they applied to more hunting, gathering and procreating. Much later, fire gave us the ability to smelt and forge metals, to bake bricks and pottery, and to burn limestone to make cement and mortar. And, as we shall see, our uses for fire would also broaden a bit beyond just burning a few scattered acacia branches .
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