More than any other technical innovation, the control of fire marked humanity’s rise. In his , Darwin called making fire humanity’s greatest achievement. The only possible exception that he noted was the invention of language. Even today, in our industrialized and technological world, almost all of our energy practices are merely more sophisticated ways of controlling fire. The initial control of fire was at once a social act, a mental act, and a technical act. Although making stone tools represented the big break between the human line and its ancestry, it only allowed apes to mimic what other animals could do. Stone tools represented artificial claws, teeth, and jaws of animals far larger and more capable than apes at killing and eating flesh and bones. Protohumans with stone tools could scavenge more effectively and maybe defend themselves and even attack others, but it was not initially different in kind from what other animals could do, and was a pathetically small advantage when their first stone tools were merely rocks with sharpened edges, about on the order of brass knuckles. Would you want to fend off a lion predation attack (and perhaps multiple lions) with a rock, and at night? Controlling fire was the radical break from all other organisms that ever lived on Earth.


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