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The Discovery

of Fire

In ancient Greek mythology, the theft of fire by Prometheus

from the gods was the foundation of technology and civili-

zation, a never ending source of power. However, it was also

the beginning of the so-called Tragic Age because the fire

also brought destruction and death.

Man appeared on earth approximately three to five mil-

lion years ago. Forest vegetation and the associated forest

fires have already existed for about 350 million years. Man

only discovered fire for his own use over one million years

ago: People stayed in vegetative regions where fires also

occurred and not in polar regions or deserts and therefore

came into contact with fires. It is likely that people followed

and made use of the fires because they realized that heat-

ed meat can be enjoyed for longer than raw meat. A dis-

covery which was more likely a coincidence than anything

and which it is very difficult to put on a timeline. Findings

from old hearths in Africa are estimated by scientists to be

1.42 million years old.

However, another half a million years was to go by before

people not only learned to use the fire but also to control

it. Handling fire is a unique characteristic of man – sparking

it, controlling it and putting it out. No other living creature

has this ability.

The same idea is always behind the myths surrounding fire:

That humanity stands out for its ability to tend to fire and

cook foodwith it. However, fire did not onlymake it possible

for humans to prepare their food. Their societies achieved

greater complexity; they became more productive and larg-

er, but alsomore destructive andmore vulnerable. Fire gave

them light and warmth. It helped them when hunting and

also helped them to clear forest areas and establish arable

land later on.

Open fire became the furnace which man continued to de-

velop over centuries. Fire and furnaces formed the basis for

the industrial revolution in the 18th century: The first ma-

chines were operated with steam. New furnaces were built

for different combustion processes and became even larger

and more efficient. Today, ultramodern industrial furnaces

with refractory linings exist all over the world.