Ancient history

Mastery of fire by Homo Erectus

Homo erectus appeared about 1.8 million years ago in Africa, then moved to Asia and Europe. He succeeds Homo habilis who, as his name suggests, is skilled and masters the tools. The hominid race evolves little by little. The characteristic of Homo erectus is to be bipedal and above all to stand upright (from the Latin erectus which means upright).

Around 450,000 BC


Homo erectus fishes, gathers and hunts. It protects itself from the cold thanks to the skins of the game it has hunted. He makes objects, tools. Nothing distinguishes him from Homo habilis in what he does, other than his posture… until the day when he manages to domesticate the fire resulting from natural accidents (lightning). The date is put forward to around 450,000 BC to assess the appearance of this domestication which will upset its way of life. The first intentional foci were found in China at Zhoukoudian. If some calcinations date from well before, 790,000 years before Jesus Christ, as in Gesher Benot Ya'aqo (Israel) for example, we still do not know if they were truly intentional. A hearth is described when there is a burnt space, bounded by stones, with superpositions of ashes proving that it has been reused, and charred bones (proof of sustenance), etc. Fire cooks food, kills bacteria, wards off ferocious beasts, prolongs daylight, penetrates deeper into caverns, and explores new territories.


The mastery of fire is one of the most founding acts of our humanity. Indeed, this domestication fundamentally differentiates man from animals because he is, and remains, the only one to have known how to domesticate fire. From then on, our species is no longer dependent solely on nature for food. Indeed, it can transform raw into cooked. Some foods that were not edible become so. Food being less difficult to chew, Homo erectus therefore sees its jaw transform (fewer teeth). In addition, he eats more and changes physically:his brain grows. There are also fewer deaths because fire kills bacteria. This discovery also upsets his way of life. Mastering more and more his environment thanks to fire, Homo erectus becomes an actor and not a follower. He now has the means to no longer suffer from the cold, for example. Culture gradually takes precedence over nature (raw becomes cooked). From now on, the hominid can gather and converse around the fire. These first meetings open the doors of socialization to him.

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