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Prehistoric Fire

Fire has had a long relationship with humans. It is not known when we first tamed fire, but it was very long ago. The folklore of many cultures contains stories of taming fire. Generally, the arrival of fire in these cultures is related to stealing fire or receiving it as a gift from a Supreme Creator (Hoebel 1972, Hudson 1976). Southeastern tribes believed that fire was the earthly representative of the sun. Fire was from the Upper World and was so sacred that it was reverently addressed before any ceremonial proceeding and never polluted with water, which was from the Lower World. In August at the beginning of a new year, all fire was extinguished and rekindled anew. High Priests warned that those people who failed to extinguish their fires properly would be punished by the divine fire (Hudson 1976).

Fire performed many functions for southeastern Indians. Corrective fires were used to open up the older stagnated timber stands to enhance food production (Bonnichsen and others 1987, De Vorsey 1971). Fire was used to control pests such as ticks and mosquitoes. Even the smoke, which was an integral part of the sacred fire, was believed to purify the air for breathing by eliminating lurking diseases (De Vorsey 1971).

Fire provided safety from predators because of their natural fear of fire. Fire offered warmth and light and created a sense of security. It cooked food, and it dried meat and fruit for later use.

Humans penetrated remote and unpopulated areas of Europe, Asia, and finally the Americas by following a retreating glacier. Surviving the cold and brutal climate was only possible because of fire. "Fire could have made the difference between survival and extinction in the regions occupied by human beings" (Coon 1954).

Fire was an equalizer, allowing humans to drive game and confront prey and predator. Fire was the commanding tool that not only allowed humans to survive, but also provided a margin of comfort. It gave humans greater mastery of their environment, and it was around campfires that the first seeds of civilization were planted.

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content: Wayne D. Carroll
webmaster: John M. Pye

created: 4-OCT-2002
modified: 08-Dec-2013