Man, as he writes his own history, takes credit for many things, including the discovery of fire. Particular individuals have had their own personal discoveries especially when fooling around with Jalapeno and Habanero peppers for the first time, but for any of us to presume to be unique in that respect would be naive. I’ve observed people, and naivety is not altogether uncommon. Neither is the smugness that follows the naivety with the conclusions that suppositions are facts.
Back in the late sixties I worked in a railroad car repair shop so I could save up enough money to study for the ministry at a local tavern. One day, while cutting the head off an old rusty rivet with an acetylene torch, the rivet head–white hot– fell into my boot. Now I’m not bragging, but I think I was the first one to discover the fire. But that of course was not the first discovery of fire: it was just the first one of that magnitude to be in my boot.
As with many discoveries in science, there is often a connection to other discoveries to be made if we’ll just pay attention. A few weeks after my hot-foot episode, I was again at work and on the verge of discovery. While welding two pieces of steel together over my head, a co-worker noticed that my shirt was on fire, and told me about it. I give him all the credit for discovering the fire, but while spinning around and around flapping my arms, I believe I discovered a dance right there on the spot that wouldn’t become popular until the seventies. It was some kind of a disco inferno sort of thing, and I never wore flannel shirts in the welding shop again.
Whenever engulfed in flames I do dance and sing a bit, But mine is a small show compared to the cast and crew of a modern-day fire department. Whenever those guys discover fire, all Hell brakes loose with gongs, hollering, sirens, bells, long trucks with flashing lights, ladders and hoses: and such slaves to fashion! Amazing hats, coats and boots like some of the costumes right out of “Star Wars”. And, they are a dedicated bunch. If your house is on fire, and you see a fireman running in your direction with an ax in his hand, don’t stand in front of the door!
Earth’s early history was all about fire. Fire was everywhere. There must have been an arson in the Deity’s ranks in those days, to give the devil his due. Now, for some of you, pyromania will sound like some kind of all-night professional wrestling event on television, but I’m telling you that there was a firebug on the creation committee. For quite some time, there wasn’t a rock in the sky that wasn’t on fire, and not a fire department anywhere!
In time, things cooled down a bit. Water somehow got here, and the next thing you know…life! Primitive life forms began to show up long before people. Man had not yet learned his lines well enough to take center stage. No doubt, flames would have been noticed by these early primitive life forms. Set fire to a worm or a flea or a tick or a congressman and see if they don’t take note of it!
Since man is a newcomer to the community of life here on earth, fire is likely to have been discovered by something older than man–even something older than dinosaurs. We all have relatives that might fit that category, and I had this great-uncle back in Spartanburg who might have done it. Although there is still research to be done, I think fire is likely to have occurred and possibly may have even been discovered before there was an earth…perhaps even before there was a Spartanburg.
Some speculation has it that the controlled use of fire dates back 7 or 800,000 years to the early stone age during the Lower Paleolithic period. The upper Paleoliths had to deal with the smoke, and there is some plausibility that Sir Walter Raleigh was a descendant of those folks.
Homo Habilis, Homo Erectus, and Homo Tallezvous (a French version of Neanderthal that wore a beret, drank red wine and invented cave paintings) all had opportunities to witness fires because of the ubiquity of volcanoes. Lightning may have played a part being that the lightning rod hadn’t been invented yet. I know all these scientific terms can get confusing. Recently a science teacher told me about raising an eyebrow when a parent complained that “homo erectus” was inappropriate to discuss with school children. Since then, I’ve been of the opinion that trying to discuss anything with some parents would be generally useless, if not inappropriate.
Some who study language and rhetoric think there is reason to believe our early ancestors had developed a name for visible combustion. Perhaps it was Homo Loquacious during the early part of the Pre-Instructive age, I’m not sure. But it was certainly during a time when actual words were rare and precious, and long before Homo Politicus shaped them into sharp tools and weapons. So for at least a millennium, fire was just called: “Ooh!”
Probably by accident at first, but a possum or a squirrel or a mammoth leg got dropped into the fire creating the need for a word for “cooked” food. That word was: “Ah!”
Early orators, whose descendants would later form Alpha Psi Omega; The Demosthenian Literary Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, and Talk radio, stood for hours around primeval campfires saying:
“Ooh! Ah! Ooh! Ah! Ooh! Ah!” Though primitive in form, it has without a doubt influenced modern sermons and speeches–especially the more emotional ones that elicit tears and donations.
Then there was Homo Democratus and Homo Republicus. Both lacked a prehensile brain and therefore neither ever accomplished grasping ideas. Evidently, they were island dwellers, and did not mix well socially. It is said that they would position themselves on the left and on the right of the isle and oppose each other beyond the point where cooperation could’ve done any good. Neither group is known to have had a controlled use of fire, or a controlled use of anything else, for that matter.
They both became extinct during Noah’s brief time in the Admiralty because they didn’t have sense enough to come in out of the rain. Yet many people today still practice some of their archaic social and religious rituals.
That either Homo Democratus or Homo Republicus ever got a handle on anything is unlikely because tools and pottery came much later. As for fire and flames, suspicions are that both groups have some history with hot pants and burning desires, but neither could claim a genesis in those departments even though many individual members of each group are likely to have excelled in them.
So with that, I close this letter entitled “The Discovery of fire”. Originally it was to be a short comment, but it took off down the winding pathway of my other letters out of habit. Due to wordiness I guess I could have called it “The Book of Matches”. I typed long, and struck the keypad gently so as not to bruise it. I went about it slowly in order to be courteous. Some people (not you of course) do not read as fast as others. For the Book of Matches, this would be strike one.