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.