Letter | Published:

Possible Origin of the Use of Fire by Early Man

Naturevolume 192page1318 (1961) | Download Citation



THOUGH many animals can become accustomed to the presence of fire, man alone has learned to produce, to maintain and to control it. However, this achievement is not peculiar to Homo sapiens. Fire was known also to Homo neanderthalensis and Pithecanthropus pekinensis1. From the study of fire-myths and the cultures of primitive races, it is usually presumed that fire was first obtained from such natural sources as volcanoes, bush fires, lightning, sparks struck from stones, or dry branches rubbing together in the wind2–5. Myths, however, are not necessarily reliable as guides to the distant past, while the reaction of animals, even of modern man, to volcanoes and forest fires is one of terror. Even when fear has been mastered, the practical difficulties of obtaining fire from these sources are still immense. Natural production of fire by friction or percussion is too rare to be readily observed by members of a small and scattered population.

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  1. 1

    Handbook on Evolution (British Museum, London, 1958).

  2. 2

    Graves, H. G., J. Asiatic Soc. Bengal, 12, 1 (1916).

  3. 3

    Hough, W., Bull. U.S., Nat. Mus., 139, 1 (1926).

  4. 4

    Huntingdon, E., article on “Fire” in Encyclopædia Britannica (1959).

  5. 5

    Latham, R. F. (trans.), Lucretius: the Nature of the Universe (London, 1951).

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  1. Bede College, Durham

    • D. C. ARNOLD


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