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Thread: Fire good... and old

  1. #1
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    Fire good... and old

    From R&D magazine on-line

    When did our ancestors first use fire? That's been a long-running debate, and now a new study concludes the earliest firm evidence comes from about 1 million years ago in a South African cave.

    The ash and burnt bone samples found there suggest fires frequently burned in that spot, researchers said Monday.

    Over the years, some experts have cited evidence of fire from as long as 1.5 million years ago, and some have argued it was used even earlier, a key step toward evolution of a larger brain. It's a tricky issue. Even if you find evidence of an ancient blaze, how do you know it wasn't just a wildfire?

    The new research makes "a pretty strong case" for the site in South Africa's Wonderwerk Cave, said Francesco Berna of Boston University, who presents the work with colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    One expert said the new finding should be considered together with a previous discovery nearby, of about the same age. Burnt bones also have been found in the Swartkrans cave, not far from the new site, and the combination makes a stronger case than either one alone, said Anne Skinner of Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., who was not involved in the new study.

    Another expert unconnected with the work, Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University in The Netherlands, said by email that while the new research does not provide "rock solid" evidence, it suggests our ancestors probably did use fire there at that time.

    The ancestors probably brought burning material from natural blazes into the cave to establish the fires, said Michael Chazan of the University of Toronto, a study author. Stone tools at the site suggest the ancestors were Homo erectus, a species known from as early as about 2 million years ago.
    In any case, they said, the work does not show that human ancestors were using fire regularly throughout their range that long ago. In a paper published last year, they traced such habitual use of fire to about 400,000 years ago.
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    Yeah, but I want to know when the monolith was on Earth!



    Does anyone else think that cooking started out as:'Og! You got your mammoth leg in my fire!' 'Mog! You got your fire on my mammoth leg!"


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    Quote Originally Posted by korjik View Post
    Does anyone else think that cooking started out as:'Og! You got your mammoth leg in my fire!' 'Mog! You got your fire on my mammoth leg!"

    Careful, I think you'll get copyright infringement from Reeses.

    Actually, I often thought that the first test of cooking food was probably accidental, maybe an animal caught in a brushfire, and some hungry human decided to try it. And, as the article says, the first fires were probably "captured" from naturally started fires.

    What I really want to know, how hungry was the first person who decided to eat an oyster? (and yes, I actually like raw oysters)
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    It must have been a hit though once it got started.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ravens_cry View Post
    It must have been a hit though once it got started.
    Especially once they discovered the purported side effects.
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

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    From the excerpt, it sounds like evidence that people were using fire, not doesn't state if they were making it or capturing it from another source
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    From other sources it was my impression that we have evidence of fire use at least 150,000 years before we have evidence it could be started at will. This pushes back the first date but not the second.
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    It seems to me that cooking is by far the most useful aspect of any primitive fire, even surpassing the deterrent effect, and by far the easiest way to start a fire is to have kept a fire going from earlier. This could be a large factor in encouraging our ancestors to stay put in villages where someone can keep the fire going while others go out on hunting trips. Our digestive systems have had time to adapt to cooked food with the advantage of a smaller total gut. Speculating further, the power of smoke to preserve might also have been noticed in bush fire or forest fire and the need to preserve a large kill is intense, so maybe the fire and the smoke were both highly prized. I wonder when the smell of cooking meat became so attractive to us? Presumably it evolved after the practice of cooking became common.

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    I wonder when the smell of cooking meat became so attractive to us? Presumably it evolved after the practice of cooking became common.
    I can see good reasons for it to evolve that way. Cooked meat is far less likely to give you parasites or other illnesses. That means those who liked it would be more likely to survive than those who didn't.
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

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    my Paleontology is a bit rough, but the article suggests they the species Homo erectus. This is wrong isnt it?
    What would be really interesting to get with finds like this is to know what the species was, and therefore have some idea of brain size... being Homo erectus, so far as i thought, dosnt tell you that as it isnt a distinct species

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    It seems to me that cooking is by far the most useful aspect of any primitive fire, even surpassing the deterrent effect, and by far the easiest way to start a fire is to have kept a fire going from earlier. This could be a large factor in encouraging our ancestors to stay put in villages where someone can keep the fire going while others go out on hunting trips. Our digestive systems have had time to adapt to cooked food with the advantage of a smaller total gut. Speculating further, the power of smoke to preserve might also have been noticed in bush fire or forest fire and the need to preserve a large kill is intense, so maybe the fire and the smoke were both highly prized. I wonder when the smell of cooking meat became so attractive to us? Presumably it evolved after the practice of cooking became common.
    I dunno, the most useful aspect might have been fireside chats, but that's more a result than a use. But since it gave heat and light and made the night time wakefulness somewhat useful in range of the firelight, it may have given people time to commit to inventing a more sophisticated language.

    I wonder if hominids would have developed a use for fire had they not first lost their insulating hair. Not only would a need arise in colder weather to make warmth, but a lack of insulation would have allowed humans to enjoy the warmth, whereas furry animals might not experience a benefit to having fire around. Which came first, fire or alopecia?

    Perhaps some of the earliest use of fire by early hominids would be to hide from wildfire in trees or bare spots on the ground and then follow it along to keep warm and scavenge food from the ashes.
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    I'd think humans probably became "The Naked Ape" before they had fire. Fire (and clothing) would have enabled them to move to cooler climes.
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

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    Well in defense of cooking, it does more than kill parasites; it renders meat far more digestible than when raw and allows many vegetables to be eaten since we cannot digest starches and many toxins in plants break down in cooking. Admittedly boiling might not be so ancient but roasting in hot ashes and hot smoking are easy to do with a simple fire. The faster release of calories and proteins in a major survival tool especially if migrating into temperate zones with hard winters. It looks now as if the development of grasses/flour/bread making was the really big breakthrough for city life but by then cooking on a fire must have been ancient knowledge.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
    I'd think humans probably became "The Naked Ape" before they had fire. Fire (and clothing) would have enabled them to move to cooler climes.
    There is a special biological pathway in humans which transports Magnesium through the skin into the bloodstream. The only reason I can think of for such a mechanism is an inheritance from regular sea bathing as is supposed by one of the naked ape strands of thought. I think it is one of the most telling since as far as I know it is found in all humans. Therefore BBQ on the beach is possibly the start of being human?
    Last edited by profloater; 2012-Apr-06 at 12:12 PM. Reason: added skin for clarity

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    There is a special biological pathway in humans which transports Magnesium through the skin into the bloodstream. The only reason I can think of for such a mechanism is an inheritance from regular sea bathing as is supposed by one of the naked ape strands of thought. I think it is one of the most telling since as far as I know it is found in all humans. Therefore BBQ on the beach is possibly the start of being human?
    For that to be the case you would have to see this pathway most commonly in only those creatures with aquatic origins. Another use for it might be recycling sweat, for example. Or it might be linked to the use of magnesium as a signalling ion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shaula View Post
    For that to be the case you would have to see this pathway most commonly in only those creatures with aquatic origins. Another use for it might be recycling sweat, for example. Or it might be linked to the use of magnesium as a signalling ion.
    Good point, recycling sweat to recover salts would be important but there is no similar pathway for sodium chloride salt. Magnesium might be far harder to get from the diet of meat eaters.

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    Herbivores are full of magnesuim.
    Time wasted having fun is not time wasted - Lennon
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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    I think it is one of the most telling since as far as I know it is found in all humans. Therefore BBQ on the beach is possibly the start of being human?
    And based on some beach BBQ's that I hear of, could be the end of being human.
    (Sorry; on with the valid discussion)

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    Quote Originally Posted by BigDon View Post
    Herbivores are full of magnesuim.
    And a compelling reason to eat steak! I suppose it is only in modern times that grasses can become very deficient through cropping and diet sources of magnesium in the developed world such as bread can now not provide enough so supplements are needed. It still remains true that swimming in the sea is a good way to catch up on magnesium intake by skin absorbtion. Cos eating epsom salt is a powerful laxative!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ara Pacis View Post
    I wonder if hominids would have developed a use for fire had they not first lost their insulating hair. Not only would a need arise in colder weather to make warmth, but a lack of insulation would have allowed humans to enjoy the warmth, whereas furry animals might not experience a benefit to having fire around. Which came first, fire or alopecia?
    Humans don't lack insulation, we have developed to use subcutaneous fat for that purpose.

    Anyway, it's quite clear you don't have a cat at home since you can ask such a question. For a cat, the warmer the better, and it has to be singeingly hot to not count at good sleeping space.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen View Post
    Humans don't lack insulation, we have developed to use subcutaneous fat for that purpose.

    Anyway, it's quite clear you don't have a cat at home since you can ask such a question. For a cat, the warmer the better, and it has to be singeingly hot to not count at good sleeping space.
    The argument for domestic cats as originally desert creatures.

    A domestic cat can comfortably sleep on a 124F surface, which is the threshhold of pain or beyond for most humans. (The exceptions usually being professional cooks and dish washers.)
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    Quote Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen View Post
    Humans don't lack insulation, we have developed to use subcutaneous fat for that purpose.
    I was referring to body structures that don't emit heat of their own, which living cells do. And fat cells also store energy for use internally (I suppose one might argue that burning hair is using it for energy). Another distinction is that hair insulates externally, but fat deposits can occur in other than subcutaneous locations.

    Anyway, it's quite clear you don't have a cat at home since you can ask such a question. For a cat, the warmer the better, and it has to be singeingly hot to not count at good sleeping space.
    There is a cat here, and your argument proves my point. The cat likes hotter locations because of its insulating properties prevent it from experiencing as much heating from it. If I had a seat cushion made of aerogel, perhaps I could sit on a hot electric plate all day.
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