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The History of Fire and How Humans Discovered It

The History of Fire and How Humans Discovered It

At Scutum London, fire is what dictates our day-to-day lives. Most of the time, our focus is on the very real dangers of fire, its potential to destroy property and lives and how we can better prevent that happening.

However, to be aware of the best ways of controlling and fighting fire, it is vital that you also understand, appreciate and respect fire. We know that fire is so much more than something to be scared of – it cooks our food and keeps us warm in winter, while in the early years of mankind it enabled us to make tools and weapons, populate even the colder parts of the planet and ward off predators. In short, without fire we wouldn’t be here today.

So, this month the team at Scutum London will be celebrating fire by taking a brief look at its history and how our ancestors learned to both create and use it.



The history of fire and how humans discovered fire

The history of fire is as old as the history of the universe itself. However, it’s how we learned to both create and control fire that helped turn us from just another species into one able to dominate and manage the planet for its own purposes.

Greek mythology tells how Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humanity as an aid towards civilisation (for which he was really made to suffer – his eternal punishment was to be tied to a rock and then have his liver eaten by an eagle; each day his liver would grow back and each day it would be eaten again). In reality, fire occurred naturally much as it does today with tinder dry grass and wood being set alight by the heat of the sun, by lightning or by some other natural source.

There are claims that the earliest evidence of a member of the Homo family (i.e. not Homo sapiens, but one of our species’ earlier ancestors) using fire dates from between 1.7 to 2 million years ago. However, the most widely accepted evidence, in the shape of microscopic traces of wood ash, dates it to about one million years ago.

That, however, is currently viewed as a one-off, an opportunity taken to control an existing fire as opposed to regular, prolonged and deliberate fire management.

Regular and habitual use of fire can only be confidently dated to somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 years ago. The evidence to support this includes what has been identified as a repeated use of a single hearth in Israel, with additional signs of meat being roasted there. 

How have humans used fire

The real advances were made when we started to use fire to control our environment and make our lives more comfortable and less dangerous. These are some of the key ways early man used fire:


To provide warmth

The warmth we get from fire enabled our early ancestors to migrate and settle areas of the planet that would otherwise have been too cold to inhabit.


To ward off predators

Early man was as much prey for predators as any other mammal. As most animals are scared of fire, learning to create fire helped protect our ancestors from attack.


To cook food and boil water

Cooking food and boiling water enabled us to have a more varied diet and kill pathogens and parasites. It has also been suggested that cooking food helped our brains to grow and develop as nutrients in cooked food are easier to digest than in raw food.


To make tools and weapons

Making tools and more effective weapons was another of the key steps we took on the path to civilisation. Using fire to harden wood, treat certain types of rock and eventually forge metal meant we could make tools to make some tasks easier and some animals easier to hunt.


To become social

When our ancestors built a fire on a cold night with predators roaming nearby, they would naturally gather together around it to share its warmth and protection. That in turn, it has been argued, helped turn us into the social animals we are today.


To make pottery

Making pots and bowls to cook in and eat from also enabled us to enjoy a much wider diet, while it also represented some of our earliest artistic endeavours.


Here at Scutum London, we are proud to be part of one of the UK’s largest and most effective fire prevention and fire control companies, enabling businesses and organisations across London and the rest of the UK to reduce the chances of fire breaking out or taking hold in their premises. We offer a range of different products and services from Fire Alarms, Fire Extinguishers right through to Fire Stopping.

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About Scutum London

Scutum London is a leading expert in fire safety and security solutions for businesses and organisations located across South East England, including London and Surrey.

From fire alarms, fire extinguishers and fire risk assessments to access control, CCTV and intruder alarm systems – and a lot more besides – we offer a comprehensive range of products and services designed to keep you, your business and your staff and visitors safe.

With decades of industry experience to call on, we’re proud to hold accreditations from leading trade associations and bodies such as British Approvals for Fire Equipment (BAFE), the British Fire Consortium, the Fire Industry Association (FIA) and Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB).

If you’d like to find out more about Scutum London, get in touch with our friendly team or explore our products and services on our site.


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